It's been said (OK, mostly by me) that Nashville is where hacks go to revive their careers by going "country" (hey, I lived in the city for 30+ years, so I know what I'm talking about). Said former chart-topping artist talks about how much they've really loved country music all these years, drops a name like Hank or Patsy or Waylon and the ink is barely dry on their new label deal before they step out onto Music Row.
Talented musicians, on the other hand, tend to return to the blues from whence they originally came. Blues music is a big tent with lots of hallowed traditions and few real rules (witness Otis Taylor or Corey Harris), and blues fans pretty much welcome everybody to the party. You don't play blues music because you're going to get rich (not these days, and not ever). Thus, you have former rock stars like Steve Miller and Bonnie Raitt returning to their blues roots and finding an audience, and even dilettantes like Cyndi Lauper and Hugh Laurie can record blues albums and find a new audience for the well-in-progress new millennium. Blues music is a great way for a musician in a slump to find a new groove, and we think that the following six artists would benefit from recording a blues album.
Most casual music fans know Fleetwood Mac only for the band's string of best-selling "California pop" albums during the 1970s and '80s, recorded after Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had joined the band. However, hardcore blues fans remember that the Mac began life in the mid-1960s as one of the front-running, first generation British blues bands, influenced by Otis Spann, Sonny Boy Williamson, and the like. Led by original frontman Peter Green with the rhythm section of bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, the original Mac interpreted the blues with amplified guitars and a new musical vision.
The current Mac line-up hasn't released a new album since 2003's Say You Will, and only four bona fide studio works in over 20 years. With Buckingham and Nicks taking the old crew on the road again in the summer of 2013, maybe they should start incorporating a little blues in alongside their well-worn hits and re-energize the band's sound. While Nicks' voice will never be mistaken for a flamethrower like Koko Taylor, I'd love to hear her try to channel her inner Bessie Smith. McVie and Fleetwood are veterans of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, so they should remember a thing or two about the blues. They could always bring Christine McVie back into the fold and cut her loose on the blues stuff...after all, the original Ms. Perfect made her bones as part of Stan Webb's Chicken Shack, one of Merry Ole England's original (and still rolling) blues-rock outfits.
Widely known as "The Voice of Rock," singer, songwriter, and bass player Glenn Hughes has the sort of impressive resume that makes one wonder why this talented musician isn't a household name, with posters on teenagers' walls and all that. A founding member of influential early 1970s British rockers Trapeze (which count ZZ Top among their fans), Hughes jumped to bigger and better things in 1974 when he answered a phone call from rock superstars Deep Purple, sharing vocals with future Whitesnake hairstyle David Coverdale on a trio of albums, and sharing the stage for a while with guitarist pal Tommy Bolin. After Purple broke-up, Hughes launched a solo career that has resulted in almost two-dozen quality slabs o' funk 'n' hard rock, but through the years he has also found the time to fiddle around with folks like Black Sabbath, KDF, and Gary Moore, among others. Most recently, Hughes has lent his enormous pipes to a slew of Black Country Communion albums, recording alongside guitarist Joe Bonamassa.
The usually-prolific Mr. Hughes hasn't released a solo album since 2008's First Underground Nuclear Kitchen (a title worthy of the late, great rock 'n' roll eccentric Frank Zappa, one of the few musicians that Hughes hasn't played with), busy as he's been with BCC and all, and even that acclaimed album displayed Hughes' normal fascination/obsession with funk, rock, and soul music. Still, Hughes' performance on what seems like thirty Black Country Communion releases proved that he has the voice to handle the blues, his strong and confident vocals mixing just the right amount of soul and blues together and reaching a peak that contemporaries like Robert Plant or Paul Rodgers are unable to climb these days. I'd personally love to hear what Hughes could do with a strong set of authentic blues tunes, especially with the right guitarist behind his powerful vocals...or maybe he could just get back together with Joe Bonamassa and do a right proper BCC blues disc, eh?
Former Led Zeppelin guitarist, sonic architect, and production mastermind Jimmy Page has been making noises lately about creating some new music, and methinks he should just look backwards towards the hallowed blues of his youth. The time to act has never been better for the reclusive guitarist, what with Led Zeppelin receiving Kennedy Center Honors in December 2012, the coveted award luckily coinciding with the release of Zep's long-awaiting Celebration Day film and album of the band's 2007 reunion show in London.
Pagey's original blueprint for Led Zeppelin built upon what he had achieved with the Yardbirds and incorporated a heaping helping of Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf. So, it would be no big stretch for Page to jump back into the fray with a set of vintage blues tunes culled from what I've heard is an enormous record collection. Just write up a few riffs to toss in with the raw melodies of the cover tunes, find a big-lunged frontman to sing the songs and a rocking band to back him, and it's Gold™ Record time, baybee! Page would have no trouble finding musicians to play with – he's Jimmy Rock Legend Page after all – and even if he couldn't find a suitable singer, I'm sure that Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes is still in his rolodex (they made a record together in 2001). Page hasn't released a solo album of new music since 1988's lukewarm albeit pleasant Outrider set (not counting the meager Death Wish II movie soundtrack), and he's not getting any younger although, at a spry 69 years old, he's still a kid in short pants next to legends like B.B. King and Buddy Guy.
Yes, yes, I know...old Joe Bonamassa is already one of the most popular blues artists traveling the world's highways and byways in the 21st century. He cranks out something like half a dozen new studio albums every couple of years (and a matching number of live sets…this guy works hard!), every performance drenched with his lively, undeniable blues-rock fretwork. But wouldn't you like to hear Bonamassa go "unplugged" and deliver a considered set of acoustic blues covers?
We've seen what Joey Bones can do with material like Robert Johnson's "Stones In My Passway" on Driving Towards The Daylight or Otis Rush's "Three Times A Fool" from Black Rock. It would be nice to see him pick up a plain jane six-string and work his way through a set of songs from, say, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and/or R.L. Burnside. Maybe then Bonamassa would finally get the respect he's deserved all these years from those tone-deaf Grammy™ folks. Heck, I'd even help pick out some great songs for the album...Joe, you have my number. Call me, we'll make it happen!
Onetime rock 'n' roll superstar Paul Rodgers certainly seems to be lost these days. Whereas he once rode loud and proud into arenas across the fruited plain as Bad Company's frontman during the 1970s, these days Rodgers seems to be living on past glories. Heck, the guy was reduced to filling Freddie Mercury's large and rather ornate shoes during the early 2000s, touring and recording with what remains of British rock superstars Queen. Rodgers' last recording of note was four years ago and The Cosmos Rocks, which was billed to "Queen + Paul Rodgers" (his name in much smaller type). The album enjoyed modest commercial success and while Rodgers has toured sporadically on his own since ending his five-year collaboration with Queen, he hasn't exactly been churning up any waves.
Rodgers' last actual solo recording came over a decade ago, in the form of 2000's Electric, the singer trying to recapture some of that old Bad Company black magic. He should apply his well-worn vocal chords to a good old-fashioned blues album. He could take a note from the Ozzy Osbourne playbook and find some hotshot young fretburner (or maybe even his old bandmate in The Firm, Jimmy Page), mix some old Free songs with a couple of inspired covers and a handful of new originals and hit the road in support of Paul's 21st Century Blues or whatever the album is called. Yeah, you and I both know that the thing would never fly with whatever rock radio is these days – they'd have to begrudgingly drop "Feel Like Makin' Love" and "Can't Get Enough" from their playlist to make room for anything new – but blues-rock fans would probably buy a ticket to the new Paul Rodgers blues show.
The Rolling Stones
True, the "World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" is getting a little long in the tooth these days (heck, they bestowed the aforementioned honor on themselves almost fifty freakin' years ago!), but it hasn't stopped the Rolling Stones from raising a ruckus when they manage to pry themselves up out of their collective wheelchairs and shout into a microphone. Witness the late 2012 release of the band's celebratory anniversary album GRRR!, which garnered the band tons of ink and electrons over an accompanying video for a new tune, "Doom & Gloom," which helped push the album into the Top 30 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. And this in spite of the fact that GRRR! is the band's fiftieth or so "best of" or "career retrospective" compilation and offered only a handful of truly fresh cuts for fans that have been collecting these geezers for a half century.
One can't blame the band for trying to bring their classic rock 'n' blues material to a new audience (and heck, they struck gold with their 40th anniversary collection Forty Licks, so why not one more kick at the can?), but the fact remains that they haven't released an album of new material since 2005's A Bigger Bang, and that was the first Stones studio effort in eight years. Instead, they've been plundering the vaults for outtakes and musty live tracks to pump up archival reissues of Some Girls and Exile On Main St. albums. One of the better-received songs from A Bigger Bang was the bluesy "Back Of My Hand," which proved that the band still had the chops and the swagger to pull off a Muddy Waters move...so why not crank out an album of new Chess Records-inspired blues tunes and bring the band full-circle back to its blues and R&B roots? It just might motivate their long-time fans to venture out of their nursing homes to buy the album and, who knows, it might appeal to enough young fans to keep the Stones wheeling their iron lungs from stage to stage for another couple of decades...