This Week in Blues Past: The Births of the Original Kinsey and the "Father of Delta Blues", Debut Albums That Shook the Blues World and Much More!

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T-Bone Walker

1. T-Bone Walker

March 16th, 1975: One of the most influential pioneers of Jump and Electric Blues, Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker died of bronchial pneumonia in Los Angeles, California at the age of 64. Born in Linden, Texas, Walker learned guitar from his parents and family friend, Blind Lemon Jefferson. His step-father also taught him to play ukulele, banjo, violin, mandolin, and piano. He left school at age 10 and by the age of 15 he was playing professionally on the Blues circuit. His first recordings were in 1929 and he didn’t record again until 1942. It was in 1947 that Walker recorded his most famous song, “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)” for the Black & White label. During the course of his career he also recorded for Atlantic, Blues Way T-Bone_Walker_in_1942Records, Brunswick, Capitol, Charly, Columbia, Duke, Imperial, Modern, Polydor and Reprise. In 1971 he won a Grammy award and recorded his last album, Fly Walker Airlines, in 1973. A 1974 stroke all but finished his career. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame with the first class in 1980 and was a major influence on artists such as Chuck Berry, B. B. King, Jimi Hendrix and The Allman Brothers.

2. Ledbetter Heights

March 16th, 1996: The debut album, Ledbetter Heights, by 18 year old blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, went to #1 on the Billboard Blues charts and remained there for 20 weeks, selling over 500,000 copies in the first few months of release. A Shreveport, Louisiana native, Shepherd named the album after a neighborhood in his hometown that was named after Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. Originally known as “The Bottoms”, the neighborhood was once a red-light district in which Lead Belly got his start, playing in the brothels there. The album included 3 hit singles, “Deja Voodoo” and “Born With a Broken Heart” both of which Shepherd had a hand in writing, as well as a cover of Bukka White’s “Aberdeen”.

3. Sunnyland Slim

March 17th, 1995: Blues pianist and songwriter, Sunnyland Slim, died in Chicago, Illinois after complications from renal failure, at the age of 88. He was born Albert Luandrew in Quitman County, Mississippi on September 5th, 1906 and moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1925, playing with popular Blues artists of the time there. His stage name came from a song which he wrote with Elmore James called “Sunnyland Train”, about the train that ran from Memphis to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1942, Slim moved to Chicago and took up residence there, recording and performing with his own band as well as session work and titled recordings with Johnny Shines, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, J. B. Lenoir, Walter Horton, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Clifton James, Hubert Sumlin, Willie Dixon, Big Time Sarah, J. B. Hutto, Little Brother Montgomery and Canned Heat. In 1988 he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1991.

4. Lester “Big Daddy” Kinsey

March 18th, 1927: Blues guitarist, singer and harmonica player, Lester Kinsey was born in Pleasant Grove, Mississippi. Unlike many of his piers, Kinsey moved to Gary, Indiana where he established himself as that town’s answer to Muddy Waters in 1950s. He played slide guitar and blew harp for local bands, all the while raising his sons Donald and Ralph into top musicians in their own right who joined their father on stage. The second generation Kinseys would later establish themselves as The Kinsey Report. “Big Daddy” began his recording career in 1984 with the album, Bad Situation and in 1993 released his most successful album, I Am The Blues, which featured Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Sugar Blue and Pinetop Perkins. Kinsey died of prostate cancer at the age of 84 on April 3rd, 2001.

5. Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson

March 18th, 1976: Electric Blues guitarist, Lucious Brinson died from cancer in Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 41. He was born on August 30th, 1934 in Davisboro, Georgia, raised on a farm and taught himself to play guitar. After a stint in the Army, he settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and began playing Gospel and Blues with a trio he set up there. During his career he went by several names, including Luther “Georgia Boy” Johnson, Little Luther, Luther King and, his most famous, Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson. He moved to Chicago in the early 1960s where he backed Elmore James and joined Muddy Waters’ backing band in 1966, recording at least 2 albums with them. His debut album was, Come On Home in 1969 and he recorded 3 additional solo albums in his lifetime. In 1970 he moved to Boston and spent the last few years of his life performing on the festival circuit.

6. Bob Dylan

March 19th, 1962: Bob Dylan’s eponymous debut album was released on Columbia Records. John Hammond, who had initially hired Dylan as a harmonica session player, produced the album which began recording in New York in November, 1961. Dylan paid homage to his Folk heroes, recording several traditional songs such as “In My Time of Dyin'”, “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “House of the Risin’ Sun”. The album also included some Dylan originals as well as covers of Blues songs from Jesse Fuller, Bukka White and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The 2013 re-release included several bonus tracks of Dylan originals as well as his live cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”.

7. Tampa Red

March 19th, 1981: Tampa Red died destitute in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 77. The man known as Tampa Red was born Hudson Woodbridge in Smithville, Georgia, raised in Tampa, Florida after his parents deaths and is known for a great many accomplishments in the Blues world. By the 1920s he had already perfected a single string, bottle neck slide technique and moved to Chicago. In 1928 he became the first black musician to play a National steel-bodied resonator guitar (a gold plated tri-cone) and his first recording was “It’s Tight Like That” with Ma Rainey the same year. He was highly sought after as a session musician recording with Memphis Minnie, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Maceo and several others. In the 1940s he was playing electric guitar, but fell out of the music scene upon the death of his wife in 1953. Re-discovered in the late 1950s as part of the Blues Revival with other artists such as Son House and Skip James, he toured the festival circuit and made his last recordings in 1960. Tampa Red is known for being a prolific recording artist, recording 335 songs on 78 alone. Between 1928 and 1942, he recorded 251 and he had 4 singles on the Billboard R&B Top 10 between 1942 and 1951. Some of his most famous recordings include “How Long, How Long Blues”, “Sugar Mama Blues No. 1”, “Black Angel Blues”, “It Hurts Me Too” and “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling”. His single string slide technique influenced guitarists such as Broonzy, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Mose Allison. Tampa Red was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981.

8. Jimmie Vaughan

March 20th, 1951: Elder brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan was born in Dallas, Texas. In the late 1960s he moved to Austin, Texas where he played guitar with WC Clark and others, even opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Ft. Worth in 1969. A protege’ of Austin club owner Clifford Antone, Vaughan, along with Kim Wilson, Keith Ferguson and Mike Buck formed The Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1974. Their first 4 albums did not sell well, although they are recognized as important “white blues” recordings. While Stevie Ray was rising in popularity, Jimmie was left without a contract, but did play on Bill Carter’s album, Stompin’ Grounds in 1985. In 1986 the band got a new contract and developed a more polished sound. Vaughan left the Thunderbirds in 1989 recording an album with his younger brother, Family Style, which was released a month after Stevie Ray’s untimely death. In 1994, Vaughan released his first solo album and has remained, primarily a solo act ever since, although he has contributed to recordings with Bo Diddley and Lazy Lester. His most recent appearance was as a guest, along with Gary Clark, Jr. with the Foo Fighters on an episode of Austin City Limits which aired just last month.

9. Son House

March 21st, 1902: Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. was born in Lyon, Mississippi. His early life was one of the church, working on and off as a preacher and raised to hate the Blues as the Devil’s music. That all changed when he turned 25 years old and heard the sound of a bottle neck guitar. He bought a guitar of his own and within just weeks was playing along side James McCoy, Willie Wilson, Frank Hoskins and Rueben Lacey in and around Clarksdale, Mississippi. His self-defense killing of a man in a juke joint had House serving 2 years of a 15 year sentence at Parchman Farm and upon his release, he moved to Lula, Mississippi where he met Charley Patton and Willie Brown. In 1930, Patton, Brown and House were all taken to Grafton, Wisconsin by a talent scout to record for Paramount Records. His first recordings did not sell and he would not record commercially again for 35 years, although Alan Lomax did record him in 1941 and 1942 for the Library of Congress. House faded from public view, moving to Rochester, New York where he worked as a railroad porter. He was rediscovered in 1964 and 22 year old protege’ Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson of Canned Heat was brought in to teach House how to, once again, play like Son House. He toured the festival circuit and recorded the album, The Father of Delta Blues – The Complete 1965 Sessions. House toured Europe and Canada once again before his death on October 19th, 1988 in Detroit, Michigan. House’ most famous recordings were “My Black Mama”, “Preachin’ Blues”, “Clarksdale Moan”, “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor” and “Death Letter”. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1980.

10. Juke Boy Bonner

March 22nd, 1932: Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo influenced Weldon H. Philip “Juke Boy” Bonner was born in Bellville, Texas. Self taught on guitar and harmonica, Bonner won a talent contest at the age of 16 in Houston, Texas. He began recording in 1954 and by 1963 had to undergo surgery which took most of his stomach, leaving him to write poetry and recover for some time. He recorded his first album in 1967 and followed with 4 others during his career. He toured the festival circuit with artists Clifton Chenier and Magic Sam, but could not support himself by playing music alone, taking a minimum wage job at a chicken processing plant. Bonner died at the age of 46 of cirrhosis of the liver in his apartment on June 29th, 1978. Bonner was best known for accompanying himself on guitar, harmonica and drums on songs such as “Life is a Nightmare” and “Struggle Here in Houston”.