Some of the greatest blues musicians of the 20th century made their mark in Chicago, Illinois. Among them, music pioneers Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. The memory of these and other modern blues maestros lives on with a new tribute album titled Chicago Blues: A Living History.
When blues musicians from the Mississippi Delta looking for work gravitated north to cities like Chicago, a more polished, urban style of blues was born. Caught up in the city's fast pace, they traded their acoustic guitars for electric guitars, and turned up the volume with a full ensemble of amplified harmonicas, thumping bass guitars and drums.
Leading the tribute to their hometown heroes are four veterans of Chicago's ever-growing blues scene, guitarists Lurrie Bell and John Primer, and harmonica masters Billy Branch and Billy Boy Arnold.
Producer Larry Skoller, who recruited the all-star lineup, assembled the backup band and handpicked the songs, explains how the arrival of Muddy Waters in 1940 signaled a whole new era in Chicago blues.
"The Delta blues musicians, notably Muddy Waters who came from the Delta to the north for work and for better living conditions, went to Chicago, which had lots of opportunities," Skoller says. "And, people would go up through Kansas City and St. Louis; and Chicago was the big center. It attracted a lot of people from the south, and when people like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf came up from Mississippi, Muddy Waters was pretty much the person, if you had to pinpoint one bluesman from the Delta who really electrified the music, and really was the foundation and link between it, it's Muddy Waters."
"We, of course, couldn't pay tribute to everybody that had an influence on the music, but we really picked the ones we felt were the most important people in sound innovators," Skoller adds. "Without question, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon were two of the giants who really had, on multiple levels and for multiple reasons, had just an amazing influence and (were) probably the most important among them; certainly, Willie Dixon (who was known) for his songwriting and the kinds of songs that he wrote, and his producing abilities and his ability to bring people together for Chess Records."
Chicago Blues: A Living History spans the years 1940 to 1991, beginning with the band's version of John Lee Williamson's "My Little Machine." It continues in chronological order with tracks by Elmore James, Lowell Fulson, Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and other "Windy City" legends.