2011 may be remembered as the year that blues labels opened up the vaults and released a number of previously-unheard live treasures and rediscovered classics. Sony continued its work on Jimi Hendrix's legacy with a number of reissues, including a couple of fine live performances, while Eagle Rock completed its restoration of blues-rock guitarist Rory Gallagher's back catalog, including a previously-unreleased album. Throw in lots of classic blues from folks like Howlin' Wolf, Magic Sam, and Junior Wells, and 2011 was a great year for blues fans! If we overlooked your favorite, share your choice in the comments section.
Without a doubt one of the greatest rhythm and blues singers there ever was, Etta "Peaches" James got her start on the Modern Records label in 1955 with the hit single "The Wallflower (A.K.A. Roll With Me Henry)." She'd rack up several more chart hits before signing with Chicago's Chess Records. Although James' Modern label recordings are often overshadowed by the wealth of her later Chess Records hits, as shown by The Essential Modern Records Collection, James was already a confident and powerful rhythm and blues singer even as a young teenager.
Reissued as part of Alligator Records' 40th anniversary celebration, this special-edition vinyl reissue of the very first album from the label has been freshly re-mastered for the digital age, and a bonus track has been added. It's the music that does the loudest speaking, however, and while Hound Dog Taylor may have been an underrated bluesman in 1971, some four decades later his debut album is considered a bona fide classic of the blues. Whether on CD or LP, this is one that you should have in your collection!
As the old maxim goes, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and by 1972 it was evident to anybody listening to releases like This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album or Message To The Young that the blues great simply wasn't ready or willing to move beyond his comfort zone. Live And Cookin' At Alice's Revisited, a long-overdue live album from the Wolf, captured the legend doing exactly what he did best – tearing up the stage with a setlist of familiar blues gems that provide a perfect showcase for Howlin' Wolf's intense style of blues.
By 1994, blues-rock guitarist Jeff Healey stood at a career crossroads. Healey and his two musical partners – bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephens – had spent the better part of a decade on the road touring, chasing one elusive hit song after another after the surprise success of the top five-charting "Angel Eyes." In April 1994, Healey and band decamped to Grossman's Tavern, a hallowed blues club in their hometown of Toronto where they had first performed. Two shows were scheduled for the trio to rehearse what would be their fourth album. They were recorded for posterity, and the best performances have finally been released as Live At Grossman's 1994, a worthwhile collection of live cover songs that showcase the guitarist and his band at their very best.
By October 1968, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was on top of the rock 'n' roll world. The band's December 1967 album Axis: Bold As Love would rise to number three on the Billboard magazine Top 200 albums chart, on its way to eventual multi-platinum sales. Hendrix and the original Experience line-up of bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell would sell out six shows over three nights at San Francisco's famed Winterland arena in advance of the impending release of their ground-breaking Electric Ladyland album. The Winterland performances were released this year as both a single-disc "highlights" album and as a deluxe four-CD box set. Whichever set you can afford, get it, 'cause Hendrix never played better than on these performances.
This 1965 debut album from beloved blues harpist Junior Wells has long been considered one of the best of the genre, the musicians successfully re-creating the sound and ambiance of a Chicago blues club on tape. With friend and musical foil Buddy Guy on guitar, Wells rolls through a dozen songs that would soon become blues classics, influencing a generation of players to follow like Paul Butterfield and Eric Clapton, among others. This re-mastered reissue includes alternate takes, unreleased tracks, and rare photos. If you don't have this one, you don't know the blues...
Delmark Records may have celebrated its 55th birthday in 2010, but they were really tearing things up in 2011 with a classic pair of reissues from Wells and guitarist Magic Sam. West Side Soul is a classic of electric blues, the perfect showcase for guitarist Magic Sam's enormous chops, honed to a razor-sharp edge by years of cutting heads in Chicago's blues clubs. Delmark's deluxe reissue includes re-mastered sound, taken from the original 1967 analog stereo mix, as well as rare photos and the album's original liner notes. Another case of "you don't own this," you don't own jack...
Ram John Holder is an obscure blues artist even in his adopted U.K. homeland, and he remains virtually unknown to U.S. blues fans who have seemingly mined the 1960s British blues-rock explosion for everything of value. This BGO Records reissue of Holder's 1969 and '71 albums on a single-disc is a reminder of the vitality and diversity of the British blues scene of the 1960s, and well worth checking if only for Holder's imaginative blending of blues, soul, and jazz music.
The most influential bluesman in the history of the genre gets a 100th birthday celebration fitting of his genius as Sony Legacy reissues the guitarist's sparse catalog in a brand-new, re-mastered edition as The Centennial Collection. Other than shuffling of the sequencing from previous versions, the freshly-digitized sound is amazing, and the deluxe edition's inclusion of other period music recorded at the same studios as Robert Johnson is a brilliant addition.
By late 1977, Irish blues-rock guitarist Rory Gallagher had delivered six studio albums in as many years, and had toured constantly during the interim. After completing a particularly grueling six-month tour that finished in Japan, Gallagher and band flew back to San Francisco to record a new album with producer Elliot Mazer, the recordings subsequently shelved by the guitarist and forgotten for the next 35 years. Resurrected by Gallagher's nephew, this two-disc set presents the album that never was, proving that it was pretty good to begin with, packaged with an incendiary live performance from 1979. Notes From San Francisco is part of the year-long restoration of Gallagher's back catalog, which includes a number of gems that are essential for fans of blues-rock guitar.