Classic Albums: The Great Blues Men

If I were to point to one album that was responsible for launching me out of the comfortable cocoon of my musical beginnings with Jimi, Dylan, and Neil, it would be the double LP compilation titled, The Great Blues Men.

Released by Vanguard in 1972, The Great Blues Men, is a truly great compilation as it includes some not so obvious selections, a number of whom became the subject for deeper inspection over the course of the past near-50 years. My best guess is I purchased this record around the time of its release and one unforgettable mile-marker was seeing Muddy Waters, solo on a stool, open for Eric Clapton — I was much more interested in Muddy who I’d heard for the first time on this record— at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1979 from a few rows off stage. Muddy shook that stadium to its bones with more raw power than I’d ever heard from a man with a guitar. Poor Eric Clapton followed, sounding like a limp noddle with a toy guitar even with the help of a full backing band.

I was a ‘serious’ guitar player at this time, having taken 4 or 5 private lessons after which my father cut me off when he learned that my teacher was helping me learn some Hendrix and Robin Trower licks (the Trower licks were much easier). Coming out of this classic blues rock purple haze, listening to The Great Blues Men was a revelation. The memory of hearing these songs for the first, second, third, and hundredth time is still simmering inside and they taught me a great lesson in lineage, inspiration, and the roots of the music I so loved.

I also recall spending real time looking at the cover art collage by artist and musician Eric Von Schmidt as if these images contained the secret to life’s mystery and magic, something lacking in my day-to-day life at that time.

These images contained herein of The Great Blues Men were just taken of my newly acquired copy which, at the moment, remains sealed in its original 1972 shrink wrap. After selling nearly all of my records earlier this year, I’ve begun to slowly buy back some old essentials, like buying back pieces of memory.

It seems only fitting that this record is not available via streaming [footnote 1], further cementing my need to own it again on vinyl. I plan to wait for a quiet day with no deadlines of distraction, turn off every connected device, and open up and play my new old copy of The Great Blues Men and spend the entire 4-sided time breathing in these songs anew.

1. I find that some music is damn-near impossible for digital to get right including this kind and reggae.