Black Friday has come and gone and the holidays are firmly upon us. Your humble Blues Guide has been scouring the store shelves and online retailers, looking for the best blues-related items available. Whether you're looking for blues-related goodies for yourself (in which case, print out this list and tack it up somewhere obvious to the person buying your gifts), or you need ideas to buy for the blues music fan on your list, to follow are the Reverend's recommended blues gifts for 2012.
This is a B.B. King fan's dream come true, a ten-disc collection celebrating the 50th anniversary of the guitarist's signing with ABC-Paramount Records. The collection comes packaged in a deluxe box including a 72-page gilded hardback book. Two discs document King's early recordings for labels like Bullet, Modern/RPM, and Kent Records while the other eight CDs cover the enormous wealth of material the prolific artist recorded for ABC-Paramount, Bluesway, and Impulse Records plus unreleased singles and live tracks. If you don't want to drop a C-note on your gift, a cheaper four-disc version will also be available.
It's not too late to pick up a Blues Images 2013 calendar for your wall, or the wall of a loved one! This annual blues datebook features a different bit of historic, vintage advertising artwork on the page of each month, as well as important dates like artist's birthdays. The 2013 calendar is perhaps their best yet, focusing on religious themes while the free accompanying CD offers a fine selection of material from artists like Blind Willie Johnson ("Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground"); Blind Blake ("Diddie Wa Diddie"); Charley Patton ("Frankie and Albert"); Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy ("What's The Matter With The Mill?"); and Blind Lemon Jefferson ("Peach Orchard Mama") as well as super-rare tracks from Lil McClintock, Hi Henry Brown, Blind Willie Davis, and Freddie Spruell, among others.
There are just a couple of blues music print publications available for fans to expand their knowledge and enjoyment of the music (beyond About.com Blues, of course). Although they all have their charms, I personally prefer the long-running Blues Revue for my ink and paper fix. Blues Revue provides great blues and roots music coverage, in-depth artist interviews, even song notation for those who want to play the blues themselves. Plus, subscribers receive several sampler CDs each year of new music. Full disclosure: the Reverend has contributed to Blues Revue in the past but I've also been a subscriber for years.
If you want to give the old-school blues fan on your list a really great gift, look no further than The Cotton Exchange. Run by label executive and blues fan David Katznelson of Birdman and Sutro Park Records, The Cotton Exchange gives subscribers eight great vinyl reissues of classic old blues albums for a mere $100 per year, postpaid, sent quarterly. These days it costs upwards of $20 to get your vinyl groove on with a single new album, making The Cotton Exchange a real steal at what amounts to $12.50 per platter for some hot titles that have been long out-of-print on CD, if they were ever made available in the first place. The calendar year 2012 has brought subscribers vintage vinyl from artists like Skip James, Bukka White, and Jessie Mae Hemphill, so who knows what great music awaits in 2013?
For the blues-rock guitar fan on your gift list, look no further than Gov't Mule's enormous The Georgia Bootleg Box. Guitarist Warren Haynes and band dropped a bomb on bootleggers and tape traders by delivering hardcore fans this very cool (and budget-priced) six-disc live set. The Georgia Bootleg Box collects three previously-unreleased live shows from the original Gov't Mule power-trio originally recorded in Georgia in 1996 and featuring songs from what would become the band's debut as well as material that would show up on later albums like Dose.
Gregg Allman's biography, My Cross to Bear, is a fascinating read, full of inside perspective and often-humorous stories that cover the singer and songwriter's lengthy and storied career. Allman's tale is written in his own colloquial voice, lending a folksy Southern feel to the story, and the artist is refreshingly and tellingly self-effacing. He gives credit where credit is due, and pays tribute to influences and friends like songwriter John Loudermilk and guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among many others but, most of all, Allman recognizes that he's lived a truly charmed life. My Cross to Bear is essential reading for any Gregg Allman/Allman Brothers Band or blues-rock fan.
Documenting popular blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa's sold-out two-night stand at the historic New York City venue, the electrifying performance is available both on DVD and CD for the hardcore fan. Bonamassa's special guests for these shows include singer Beth Hart, with whom he recorded the acclaimed Don't Explain album, as well as Americana legend John Hiatt and classic rock legend Paul Rodgers. Beacon Theatre: Live From New York on CD or DVD offers 20 songs from the two-night performance as well as fan favorites and material from Bonamassa's best-selling Dust Bowl album.
This beautiful 240-page hardback book collects all of the illustrations from Robert Crumb's acclaimed "Heroes of the Blues," "Early Jazz Greats" and "Pioneers of Country Music" trading card sets between two covers. A labor of love for the infamous underground cartoonist and collector of antique music, Crumb's heartfelt portraits of his favorite blues, jazz, and country/hillbilly musicians are accompanied by text from writers Stephen Calt and David Jasen. The book includes a CD of "old time" music hand-picked by Crumb himself.
Like many of us, Terry Abrahamson became enamored of the blues at an early age; in his case, it was the face-to-face experience of seeing the great Howlin' Wolf perform live. As he attended blues shows in his native Chicago more frequently, Abrahamson began carrying his camera with him...first a small Kodak Instamatic with a flashbulb, later a 35mm Minolta SLR, and he took photos...a lot of them. Along with the photographs he took through the years, Abrahamson also has a lifetime of memories, some of which he shares in the pages of his In the Belly of the Blues, a short but sharp read with a wealth of rare, previously-unpublished photos of legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and many others.