The 10 Texas Blues Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Watching the Devil tune his guitar in the middle of the night isn't how Robert (or Tommy) Johnson imagined he'd be spending his Saturday night. When that ol' demon started playing songs, fire flew from his fingertips as an otherworldly sound reverberated into the night. According to legend, despite his guitar exploding, Johnson quickly made a deal, sold his soul and became one of the godfathers of the blues.
Since Johnson's meeting at the Crossroads, Delta blues roots have developed into distinctive styles: Chicago blues, an acoustic guitar and harmonica-based Delta blues sound; Memphis blues, a guitar-based blues that transformed into jug bands; gospel blues, a combination of blues guitar and evangelistic lyrics; and Texas blues, a distinctive sound relying exclusively on the guitar but sometimes big band music will creep into the mix.
Some Texas blues musicians prefer electric guitars to harness the Lone Star sound, while others use Dobros or old hardtops. No matter their ax of choice, Texas blues artists have been at the forefront of blues for more than 90 years.
In honor of Johnson's journey into hell, here are 10 Texas blues albums you should hear before the Devil arrives at your doorstop.
10. Zuzu Bollin - Texas Bluesman (1993)
A legend among Texas blues legends, Zuzu Bollin is a blues guitarist who blazed across stages for decades before releasing an album. This collection exhibits Bollin's guitar skills sprinkled with his huge voice. The title track "Texas Bluesman" is sure to please blues enthusiasts with mournful lyrics and wailing guitar. The album is a rare find in record stores, but it's easy enough to find online.
9. Freddie King - Freddie King Sings (1989, compilation)
When the "Texas Cannonball" exploded on to the stage, his guitar skills quickly solidified his place among the Kings of Blues alongside Albert and B.B. At his first audition for Chess Records, Freddie King was told he sounded too much like B.B. King. Freddie took this criticism and used it to transform his sound. He's now considered the most emotional of the "Three Kings." Freddie's first album demonstrates this raw blues emotion with hits such as "Have You Ever Loved a Woman," "Lonesome Whistle Blues" and "You've Got to Love Her with a Feeling."
8. Charles Brown - Driftin' Blues: The Best Of (1995, compilation)
Making pianos cry is just part of this Texas bluesman's charm. After a stint with Three Blazers, a popular 1940s nightclub band, Charles Brown began a solo career in 1948, which resulted in more than 200 sides and several hits. Despite his musical success, Charles spent the next two decades working as janitor before Eric Clapton and the Eagles rediscovered his work. In the '90s, Charles recorded a number of albums, including this best-of compilation.
7. T-Bone Walker - T-Bone Blues (1959)
This list wouldn't be complete without Texas bluesman Aaron "T-Bone" Walker making an appearance. This collection of blues classics recorded between 1955 and '57 includes his hits "T-Bone Shuffle," "Mean Old World" and, of course, "They Call It Stormy Monday," a favorite of the Allman Brothers Band, Jethro Tull and Eric Clapton. T-Bone was a pioneer of electric blues, and this compilation demonstrates his ability to play slow, after-hours tones and blazing licks that inspired millions of young guitarslingers who still emulate his style.
6. Lightnin' Hopkins - The Herald Sessions (2001, remastered)
"Nothin' But the Blues," "Lightnin's Boogie" and "Lightnin's Special" are more strikes than many blues fans can handle. Like many of his blues brothers, Lightnin' Hopkins didn't start recording until his 40s. When he was 8 years old, Lightnin' met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic and later claimed he felt the blues when he met the blues legend. This compilation offers Lightnin' thundering through a distorted amp as his fingers dance through repetitive licks sure to take your breath away.
5. Albert Collins - Ice Pickin' (1978)
The "Master of the Telecaster" pushes toward the front of the pack with this album that features "icy echo, shattering, ringing, sustained high notes, ultra-percussive right hand attack" and heart attacks for blues enthusiasts who place the needle to this vinyl for the first time. Albert Collins was an unknown before this album was released. His piercing tone and bent notes that he could sustain for hours put him at the forefront of imitators everywhere. He literally choked his guitar to create this heavenly music.
4. Blind Lemon Jefferson - Black Snake Moan (2004, remastered)
The king of country blues, Blind Lemon Jefferson is a Texas mystery. Rumored to be the son of sharecroppers, Blind Lemon was a legend among local musicians in Deep Ellum, where he later met Lead Belly, another legendary bluesman, and taught T-Bone Walker how to play blues guitar. Blind Lemon is considered the founder of Texas Blues. Although this compilation isn't his best, the album offers hits "Hangman's Blues," "Matchbox Blues" and "Black Snake Moan," all songs any blues enthusiast should hear before the Grim Reaper's arrival.
3. ZZ Top - Tres Hombres (1973)
This just wouldn't be a Texas list without this band of outlaws in the top three. These bearded rockers have been inspiring guitarslingers for decades. Billy Gibbons makes his guitar growl as Dusty Hill and Frank Beard provide a blues rhythm that creates a true Texas blues sound. The band has 11 gold records, seven platinum and 13 multi-platinum records. "Jesus Just Left Chicago" and "La Grange" are staples of backroading in North Texas. This is the band's third studio album.
2. Blind Willie Johnson - Complete Recordings (1993, compilation)
This bottleneck guitar player channeled the Delta blues like a medium compelling spirits to sing. As the glass slides across his guitar's strings. Blind Willie Johnson's distinctive voice resonates his mournful lyrics. He was a preacher whose sermons were the blues. This compilation includes "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine" and "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," both hymns that are sure to inspire.
1. Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood (1983)
No other guitarist has ever channeled the blues quite like this Oak Cliff native. Stevie Ray Vaughan ignited the electric guitar like no other blues player. Stroking, bending, squeezing each note until it moaned the blues, this guitarslinger was a legend who inspired the legends -- Eric Clapton, Albert Collins, B.B. King. Stevie's guitar playing was otherworldly and no other album or song exhibits his skill like Texas Flood. There will never be another blues guitar player like him. He's truly a Texas hero.