The Rough Guide To Unsung Heroes Of Country Blues

Very little is known about many of these featured early blues artists, other than the simple fact that their classic recordings are like arrows through time and have a cutting edge coolness which defies the age in which they were recorded. These tracks are essential listening for any blues connoisseur, and an adventure into some of the more hidden recesses of country blues.

There is no space for the likes of Charley Patton, Robert Johnson or Son House in this roll of honour, as it’s time for the usual suspects to stand aside and let the limelight fall on some of the lesser-known country blues masters, whose brilliance has always been slightly under the radar. This handpicked selection of beautifully re-mastered tracks ranks alongside anything by the more decorated blues greats of the time, and delves that bit deeper into the early origins of the genre. Far from being a best of the rest, this album brings to the fore classic masterpieces that need to be heard.

Aside from the much reduced crackle and hiss synonymous with old country blues recordings, it is hard to believe that all of these tracks date from the late 1920s/early 1930s, as they have an evergreen quality and emotional depth quite unlike anything else recorded at this time in history.

Being such a broad term, country blues is best described as acoustic, mainly guitar-driven forms of the blues, often incorporating elements of ragtime, gospel, hillbilly and Dixieland jazz. This makes for an incredibly diverse selection of tracks, from sublime bottleneck guitar playing to upbeat rags and classic songster tunes to free work song inspired rhythms.

Several of the more widely recorded artists on this compilation such as Gus Cannon, Henry Thomas, Frank Stokes and Peg Leg Howell bridged the gap between early blues and the minstrel and folk styles that preceded it and are central figures in the story of the blues. Likewise the music of Geeshie Wiley, who only recorded three records, provides the perfect example of how black secular music was merging with the blues, with truly mesmerising results.

Some of the most haunting blues tracks ever recorded, by country blues diva Lottie Kimbrough and the slide guitar wizard King Solomon Hill, are complemented by the upbeat novelties of part-time bootlegger Charley Jordon and Freddie Spruell, one of the first Delta bluesmen ever to be recorded. Hambone Willie Newbern is hardly a household name, but there was always going to be room for his seminal track ‘Roll And Tumble Blues’, which has become a blues classic. 

If only guitarist extraordinaires Henry Spaulding, Garfield Akers and Bo Weavil Jackson had been invited back into the recording studio to cut a few more sides, as it’s hard not to ruminate on what else they may have had in their arsenal of songs, now lost without a trace.

These precious recordings will hopefully open your ears to some of the often overlooked & greatest blues pioneers of their day.