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Country Blues Artists

Six Pioneering Country Blues Artists

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Country blues, which is also known as "folk blues," is a primarily an acoustic guitar-oriented type of blues from which many other styles are derived. Developed independently in both the Mississippi Delta and in the Southeast United States, country blues incorporates elements of gospel, ragtime, hillbilly, and Dixieland jazz. These are the country blues pioneers that brought the music to new audiences during the 1960s "folk-blues" rediscovery.

1. Bukka White

Bukka White's Big Daddy
Photo courtesy Price Grabber
A Memphis contemporary of Furry Lewis, Bukka White was "rediscovered," much like Lewis, just in time for the early-1960s folk-blues revival. Long considered one of the finest of the country bluesmen, White was a familiar festival performer during the 1960s and early-70s, a well-dressed man swinging his National Steel Resophonic guitar. Although his repertoire was limited to traditional blues and a handful of thoughtful original songs, White was a powerful, raw singer and slide-guitar player as well as an authentic throwback to the ghosts of the Delta. Recommended Album: Big Daddy.

2. Furry Lewis

The Very Best of Furry Lewis
Photo courtesy Shout! Factory Records
Bridging the gap between the early acoustic blues of the Mississippi Delta of the 1920s and the rediscovery of so-called "folk" or country blues by white audiences in the '60s, Furry Lewis was both a unique stylist and a throwback to the sound of an earlier era. Equally capable of playing guitar with an original fingerpicked style as well as delivering a mean slide-guitar sound, Lewis was a charismatic storyteller and a flamboyant showman that performed naturally with skill and humor. Recommended Album: Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Furry Lewis.

3. Mississippi Fred McDowell

The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell
Photo courtesy Arhoolie Records
"Mississippi" Fred McDowell was a singularly unique blues artist. Living in relative obscurity for most of his life, a decade in the spotlight turned McDowell's immense talents into a brightly-burning solar flare. Influenced by Mississippi Delta bluesmen like Charley Patton and Son House, McDowell developed his own distinctive style that was heavier on percussive elements and African rhythms than traditional Delta blues. McDowell's earthy performances would help define the North Mississippi Hill Country blues sound, strongly influencing later artists like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. Recommended Album: The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell.

4. Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt's The Complete Studio Recordings
Photo courtesy Price Grabber
Mississippi John Hurt never aspired to a career in music, living most of his life as a hard-working farm laborer. The handful of recordings that he made in 1928 for the Okeh label – originals and adaptations of traditional songs like "Frankie," "Stack O' Lee," and "Avalon Blues" – stand as classics of the country blues style. Hurt's warm voice and complex, emotional finger-picked guitar style, didn't fly with a Depression-era blues audience, but it would be tailor-made for the folk fans that enjoyed his early-60s rediscovery. Both Hurt's original 1920s recordings and his work during the 1960s would have an immense influence on other folk, blues, and blues-rock artists. Recommended Album: The Complete Studio Recordings.

5. Sam Lightnin' Hopkins

Lightnin' Hopkins' Mojo Hand
Photo courtesy Price Grabber
Sam Lightnin' Hopkins was one of the most influential blues guitarists to come out of the state of Texas. A country-styled bluesman that often performed solo, Hopkins' unique finger-picked guitar style would alternate single-note leads with rhythm and bass guitar, adding percussive elements by slapping or tapping his guitar body. A prolific songwriter whose lyrics chronicled life in the South, romantic turmoil, and bawdy sexual themes, Hopkins' vocals mixed a soulful voice with a talking blues style. Hopkins' extensive body of recorded work and dynamic live performances would influence a generation of guitarists to follow. Recommended Album: Mojo Hand.

6. Skip James

The Complete Early Recordings
Photo courtesy Price Grabber
Mired in obscurity, heard on only a handful of existing (and mighty scratchy) 78-rpm records, blues artist Skip James nevertheless would become one of the best-known and influential of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen during the early 1960s. Possessing a unique vocal style that often soared into a chilling falsetto, wielding a highly individual guitar-playing technique that utilized minor keys and odd tunings, James' legend is almost entirely based on the handful of sides that he recorded for Paramount Records in 1931. Recommended Album: The Complete Early Recordings.
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