While we here at Music Forte love modern music, sometimes we'd rather cue up some tunes written and recorded long before we were born. With few exceptions, all modern music, from Odd Future to The Black Keys, can be traced in a straight line back to the distinctly American sound of the Blues. Be sure to comment and tell us what we got wrong and what we got right.
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Approximately one million times more "gangsta" than any member of The Wu Tang Clan, Huddie Ledbetter was discovered by field recorder John Lomax while serving a prison sentence for attempted murder. Pardoned by the Governor, legend has it, by a recording of his signature song "Goodnight Irene", Lead Belly toured the country wearing prison stripes and a ball and chain. Top that, 50 Cent.
Essential Tracks: "Black Girl (In The Pines)" was made famous retitled as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" by Nirvana, though "Big Fat Woman" and "House of the Rising Sun" are just as perfect.
A popular music critic once said of Howlin' Wolf, "No one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits." If that's not enough to sell you on the dark-voiced blues-man, the fact that almost every song he ever recorded is now a blues standard will. In fact, when he died Eric Clapton paid for his ornate headstone.
Essential Tracks: "Smokestack Lightning" was his signature, but "Wang Dang Doodle" and "Evil (Is Going On)" are just as frighteningly awesome.
Robert Johnson is where it all started. The legend about selling your soul to the devil for fame and fortune began with this delta blues legend. Eric Clapton (again) called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived." Without him, there would be no Rolling Stones, White Stripes, Black Keys or Led Zeppelin.
Essential Tracks: The entire catalog. specifically: "Me and The Devil Blues", "Hellhound on My Trail" and "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day."
Not just a sideman, the virtuoso harmonica player defined the instrument for modern ears by pioneering electrical amplification and feedback. His legendary coolness shaped the persona of every rock 'n' roller from James Brown to Steven Tyler.
Essential Tracks: "Juke", "My Babe" and "Boom Boom, Out Goes The Light" were the lullabies that put an infant John Popper to sleep, but kept everyone else up all night dancing.
The preeminent blues-man, The Rolling Stones named their band after a Muddy Waters classic. The man made Chess Records into the cultural touchstone it became while defying the segregated norm to become the first true crossover artist.
Essential Tracks: "I Can't Be Satisfied", "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man", "40 Days and 40 Nights" and "Mannish Boy" are all blues classics.