Chicago didn’t give birth the blues. But the genre metamorphosed there.
The king of electric post-war Chicago blues was slide guitarist Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield, 1915-83). Filmed in 1981, “Live At Chicagofest” (Shout! Factory) shows him as down-home regal but aging. We see good close-ups of him, but the camera often lingers on aerial crowd shots, and microphones obstruct our view of his band. Rail-thin Johnny Winter sings lead on “You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling.”
Elsewhere, Waters’ The Johnny Winter Sessions 1976-1981 (Raven) cherry-picks 19 songs from his four LPs that Winter produced. Reworkings of earlier Chess singles (“Mannish Boy,” “I Can’t Be Satisfied”) abound.
Waters’ self-destructive harp man Little Walter (Marion Walter Jacobs, 1930?-68) took the tiny instrument places it had never been. Exhaustive and exhilarating, his five-CD, 126-track The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967) (Hip-O Select/Geffen) starts with Walter backing Waters, then moves to his own hits (“Juke,” “My Babe,” “Sad Hours,” “Mean Old World”), with alternate takes galore.
Bo Diddley (Ellas McDaniel, 1928-2008) recorded his classics prior to the material reissued on Ride On: The Chess Masters, 1960-61 (Hip-O Select/Geffen), the third package in his Chess reissue series. Still, there’s goofy charm in the two CDs’ 54 tracks — especially on material from Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger’s sessions. “Walkin’ And Talkin’” revamps The Coasters’ “Along Came Jones” for a channel flipper. The notes say that “Live My Life” voices his frustration with Chicago-based Chess.
Apart from guitar pyrotechnics, Buddy Guy knows how to milk a note for everything it’s got, not to mention when to drop the decibels. The Definitive Buddy Guy (Shout! Factory) often includes Junior Wells’ harp on 17 stylistically varied 1958-2001 tracks.
Windy City native Michael Bloomfield has been called baby-boom America’s first guitar hero. Raven’s 76-minute expanded reissue Live At Bill Graham’s Fillmore West 1969 — credited to “Michael Bloomfield With Nick Gravenites And Friends” — adds four tracks from fellow American Flag alum Gravenites’ My Labors (which was taped at the same gig), plus Bloomfield and Al Kooper’s live “Mary Ann.” It’s hardly Bloomfield’s best, but you get lots of music for your money.
Available as a 63-minute CD or nicely filmed 79-minute DVD, It Ain’t Over! Delmark Celebrates 55 Years Of Blues At Buddy Guy’s Legends In Chicago (Delmark) salutes the blues/jazz label with journeyman live performances from seasoned veterans like Lurrie Bell, Jimmy Johnson and Zora Young. Listen closely for the humor. Note that Guy doesn’t join the taping at his nightclub.
After years of backing the likes of Guy and Otis Rush, Big James And The Chicago Playboys strut Windy City blues/R&B/soul into the present on Right Here Right Now (Blind Pig). Hearty-voiced trombonist Big James Montgomery’s compositions have the ring of sincerity. Right Here opens aptly with his Obama-era title track’s message of hope coupled with responsibility.
From Texas rather than Chicago, two-CD The Johnny Winter Anthology (Shout! Factory) initially concentrates on the blues. Though it spans 1969-2004, 28 of its 35 tracks (some in concert) predate 1977. His screaming guitar slashes through Bob Dylan, Little Richard and Rolling Stones compositions, plus his own lean and feral “Black Cat Bone.”
Meanwhile, to commemorate Woodstock’s 40th anniversary, his two-CD The Woodstock Experience (Columbia/Legacy) packages his taut, 65-minute performance at Yasgur’s farm with his then-new debut LP, Johnny Winter. “Leland Mississippi Blues” is the sole song on both discs. His brother Edgar Winter plays keyboards on three Woodstock tracks.
The nine music videos on “The Robert Cray Collection” (Pearson/Cherry Red) are strong — especially “Nothin’ But A Woman” with its witty animation. Unfortunately, the congenial but repetitive interview snippets are laden with platitudes. Also, the package says the DVD is about 60 minutes long, but it’s really just over 40.
Canada-born, Nashville-based slide guitarist Colin Linden has backed Cassandra Wilson and Alison Krauss among others. His low-key From The Water (True North) takes country blues through its subsequent evolutions. Linden sees “Trouble Only Comes In 3’s” as an impersonation of Peter Lorre doing Ray Charles.
A European cult hero, California native Seasick Steve debuts stateside on rough-hewn Dog House Music (Bronzerat). Early John Lee Hooker sides come to mind on his Tom Waits-ish reminiscences and songs backed by three-string guitar and one-string diddley bow.