Many baby boomers got their first taste of the blues through an English filter. Starting in the ’60s, Brit blues/rockers like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, Led Zeppelin, and John Mayall and the Blues Breakers introduced American teens to an native art form many had never heard of. To their credit, most of the bands were happy to promote the artists they were borrowing heavily from. The Stones even insisted that Howling Wolf be their opening act in 1965 for the TV show Shindig, introducing him to a young American audience.
Several years later, Eric Clapton insisted that Wolf”s guitarist Hubert Sumlin be a part of the 1970 Stones project London Howling Wolf Sessions or he wouldn’t participate. The Stones appeared with many of their blues idols over the years, and more recently have begun to chronicle their influences with 2016’s Blue and Lonesome, covering works by Little Walter, Magic Sam, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, and Howling Wolf.
Their latest tribute, Confessing the Blues, is a 2 CD or 2 LP set that presents the original versions of blues tunes the Stones covered or were influenced by. Ten percent of the proceeds from the album will go to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation.
All the good stuff is here, from the Chuck Berry classics the Stones re-possessed so well on their 1970 live Madison Square Garden concert record Get Your Ya Ya’s Out, “Little Queenie” and “Oh Carol,” to Bo Diddley’s “Mona” and “Can’t Judge a Book” to Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” and Muddy’s inspiration for the Stones, “Rolling Stone.”
Muddy’s in great form on “Rolling Stone,” his first Chess recording from 1950, reworking “Catfish Blues,” which had been around since the ’20s, usually credited to Robert Petway’s 1941 cover. But once Waters put his Muddy hands on it, he owned it, his stark rendition of a roaming Delta Romeo influencing generations of badboy bluesmen wannabes.
The sound quality on these cuts is outstanding, clean and powerful enough to blow your hair back.
The Stones owed a huge debt to Chuck Berry, Keith Richards adapting Berry’s swaggering clank and making it more sinister. Berry’s glorious clang rings out on “Little Queenie,” Berry’s lumpy shuffle perfect for duckwalkin,’ laying down a template for every rock-and-roll guitarist to perfect and store away as part of their arsenal. You can also check out the original version of “Carol” that caused a near fistfight on the set of the 1987 rockumentry Hail Hail Rock and Roll celebrating Berry’s 60th birthday when Berry kept insisting that Richards, the bandleader for the occasion, was playing the intro wrong, and had him redo it til Keef had smoke coming out his ears.
Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Got To Move” got Jaggerized in 1971 on Sticky Fingers, with Mick Taylor’s greasy electric slide oozing from a ’54 Telecaster as Mick gargles with a mouthful of Mississippi mud, the rest of the boys in the band hollerin’ mournfully like a bunch of stirred up haints in a graveyard choir. It’s cool and freaky, but Fred’s original still gets the job done, straight up with no frills.
The Stones took on Bo Diddley’s “Mona” on their 1964 debut, The Rolling Stones, England’s Newest Hitmakers. The Stones put the shimmer on Keith’s guitar, but Diddley’s take had his voice shimmering with so much reverb he sounded like Elvis in his rockabilly days.
Its hard to hear Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” without thinking of the conversation on 1970’s The London Howling Wolf Sessions where Wolf is showing Clapton how to play it: “You just drop in when they say the boom,” Wolf tells him, then takes ’em all to school with a rendition so simple and perfect that it makes you wanna quit the business or at least never try to do that song ever again.
The Stones take another run at Wolf with their cover of “Little Baby” on 1995’s Stripped, Jagger going in and out of his black bluesman impersonation, sounding almost prissy at times compared to Wolf’s glorious word chomping, talking about “I’ll go witcha lil’ baby, to choich … and then to woik.”
The Stones took on Jimmy Reed’s classic “Bright Lights Big City” in 1973, titling the album after Reed’s swampy down-home thumper, uncovered here in all its electric back porch grandeur.
This thing is just chock full of great stuff, 42 cuts of the bluest men ever to draw breath, including Slim Harpo, Magic Sam, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Little Walter, and John Lee Hooker. It’ll keep you busy flipping back and forth harvesting these treasures from the vault and comparing them to their English interpreters or just enjoying the original blasts from the past in all their radiant glory.