Rock artists sing the Blues

Rock artists sing the Blues

I have talked about this frequently throughout my posts but more particularly in the series on the Delta Blues and the History of R&R parts 1-4. Truth be told, most of the greatests ‘Rock’ artists owe much of their inspiration to the Blues. Rock bands and solo artists have cut many sides early and throughout their careers of blues songs. Thanks to artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley who were obviously very well known and successful, their covers of some of the great blues songs served as a conduit and exposed them to artists and listeners alike. Here are some ‘Blues’ that inspired Rock artists, a few of these songs are more well known than others.

Confessin’ the Blues by The Rolling Stones was recorded  June 11, 1964 and released on a 7″ record of five songs on August 14. Written by Walter Brown (vocals) and Jay McShann (piano and bandleader) originally released in June of 1941. Covered about 35 times including Chuck Berry (1960) who in truth the Rolling Stones were actually covering, also B.B. King (1965).

Eric Clapton in name at least is known to just about anyone who listens to music. Ranked as one of the greatest guitarists ever to play the instrument and the only three-time inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Cream, The Yardbirds and solo). Inspired at a young age after hearing a blues song on a Children’s radio program of all places where the host would slip in songs from Black American artists. So to my point at the beginning Clapton owes his career to the Blues and to his credit, he makes sure everyone knows, in part by covering well over 100 songs from the legends to the lesser known of the genre.
Double Trouble” is one such song from 1976. Written and recorded by the great Otis Rush (& His Band) in 1959. And yes (Shayne) this is the song that inspired Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1978 to re-name his band ‘Double Trouble’ (you probably knew that) after he and Lou Ann Barton were the only two left in the band originally called ‘Triple Threat’.

Gotta Find My Baby” was recorded by the BBC studio while The Beatles were playing live on June 1, 1963 and can be found on the ‘Live at the BBC’ album released November 30, 1994. The Beatles were covering the version from Chuck Berry released in July of 1960. As I speculate they were unaware at the time the song was written and performed by Bluesman Peter Clayton on November 11, 1941, released on BlueBird Records from Chicago, he called himself Doctor Clayton.

Led Zeppelin covered about 20 songs and several from Blues artists such as Blind Willie Johnson, Albert King, Otis Rush, Hoagy Lands and Sonny Boy Williamson. Now for as great a band as they were they were not always great at giving credit to these artists. On several occasions they based songs from these blues singers and changed the words to their own. While they usually credited the original song writer (sometimes after lawsuits) when covering songs I just want it said they were not always as ‘original’ as they have sometimes been noted. “Bring it on Home” is one song at least where only the original writer Willie Dixon an accomplished blues singer himself, shows in the credits. The original recording, released in 1965 was sung by Sonny Boy Williamson.

Slim Harpo

Pink Floyd took their name from two Blues singers as Syd Barrett, a founding member of the band came up with it from an album he had by ‘Blind Boy Fuller‘ a Carolina bluesman and influential guitarist. Pinkney “Pink” Anderson and Floyd Council, fellow Carolinian blues artists were listed in the liner notes as playing on the album. I somehow doubt Barrett even knew who they were but they live on in the band’s name. Pink Floyd however did not cover other artists and while influenced by others including Blues singers, far as I have discovered the only song they did cover was from Slim Harpo who wrote and recorded “I’m a King Bee” in 1957. Pink Floyd recorded their version in 1965.

AC/DC is another band that did not do much in the way of cover songs, only three according to Secondhandsongs. One was a song I’ve blogged already but I didn’t mention this version from their 1975 album ‘High Voltage’, “Baby Please Don’t Go“. Originally a ‘Traditional’ blues song, the words are credited to and first performed by Big Joe Williams (1935). Hard to say which of the nearly 60 versions between 1935 and 1975 might have inspired AC/DC, but the song became a Blues standard and continues to be covered today.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers covered a song from Blues legend Robert Johnson called  “They’re Red Hot” which Johnson recorded at the now famed session on November 27, 1936. They may have been drawn to the song for the coincidental name, but I speculate they likely had heard this version from 1977, Johnny Shines (featuring Louisiana Red & Sugar Blue) which he titled “Hot Tamales“.
It just occurred to me this very minute that this song, “Red Hot” familiar (to me at least) from artist Robert Gordon strikes very similar. Now it’s a cover of “Red Hot” by Billy “The Kid” Emerson, but to my point the song contains the line “Well, I got a gal, six feet four, Sleeps in the kitchen with her feet(s) out the door”. Johnsons song contains the line “I got a girl, say she long and tall, She sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall”. And, when mentioning a “Hot Tamale” Robert Johnson is not talking about a Mexican recipe here, there’s more than one euphemism and reference to sex in this song. Clearly (to me anyhow) Emerson (Red Hot) was stealing not only a line, but the name of the song as well as the theme. Maybe even Johnson got the line from someone else as it’s well documented there was much ‘borrowing’ among itinerant musicians during this time period. Anyway, if you have ever heard the phrase “he/she is a real hot tamale” it may have all started with Robert Johnson’s song!

Green Day channeled blues legend Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup through a cover of an Elvis Presley song. Crudup wrote and recorded “That’s Alright” in 1946. Another song I’ve blogged about, referencing of course this rendition from Elvis (1954). Green Day released their version in 2009.

This last one may surprise some, Aerosmith released “Big Ten Inch Record” on their now classic album “Toys in the Attic” in 1975, which my buddy Mike reminded me recently it was his first introduction to the band when he listened to my copy (still have it) back in the day…but as usual I’m off point again! Fact is this is a cover of a song recorded by blues artist Moose Jackson in 1952. Written by Fred Weismantel, and to say it’s a double entendre, well it is…


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2 thoughts on “Rock artists sing the Blues

  1. […] One cannot mention this genre without acknowledging the influences that started it all, such as three Kings who are as mentioned BB King, as well as Freddie King and Albert King. All began their careers in the 1950’s but many of these Blues legends produced great works in the 1970’s. It was these artists and others that go way back such as Robert Johnson and Bessie Smith from the 1920’s and 30’s through to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (Harmonica) who started recording in the 1960’s. Without their skills on guitar and at the microphone you don’t get any of the names I have mentioned. In December of 1969 BB King released a cover of a Roy Hawkins song from 1951, “The Thrill is Gone“. In 1970 it hit #3 on the R&B chart and #15 on the Hot 100 which was his highest ranked song, ending the year at #98. This is known as his signature song and most certainly one of the more well known Blues Standards that’s been covered over 100 times since his release. Check out my post on Rock Artists Sing the Blues. […]


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