Editor’s note: After a one-week hiatus, please welcome back “This Week in Blues Past”! You asked for a weekly summary of our daily blues history on Facebook and we listened! Come visit each Monday, where we will be listing the top ten events in blues history in chronological order.
1. Bessie Smith
November 24th, 1933: “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith made her final recordings for Okeh Records. In a session that was put together by John Hammond, Smith recorded “Do Your Duty”, “I’m Down in the Dumps”, “Take Me For a Buggy Ride” and “Gimmie a Pigfoot” in New York City backed by Buck & His Band which included Jazz greats, Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden.
2. Donald “Duck” Dunn
November 24th, 1941: Extraordinary session bassist, Donald “Duck” Dunn was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Dunn, also a record producer and songwriter, started playing bass in his first bands in high school with longtime friend, Steve Cropper. He was a member of the Mar-Keys and Booker T & The MGs and was part of the Stax Records band that backed artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King and even Elvis Presley. He went on to play with Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and, of course, The Blues Brothers. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and on May 13th, 2012 after performing his 5th double show with Cropper at The Blue Note in Tokyo, Japan, Dunn died in his sleep.
3. Albert Collins
November 24th, 1993: Electric Blues guitarist known as “The Iceman” and “Master of the Telecaster”, Albert Collins died in his Las Vegas, Nevada home after a 3 month battle with cancer. Collins was born in Leona, Texas on October 1st, 1932 and was introduced to the guitar at a young age by his cousin, Lightnin’ Hopkins. He began to play regularly in the 1950s in Houston, Texas with artists such as James “Widemouth” Brown, Johnny Copeland and Joe “Guitar” Hughes. His debut single, “Freeze” was recorded in Houston for Kangaroo Records in 1958. Known for his humorous stage presence and audience engaging live performances, Collins used an extra long guitar lead to go out into the audience and, sometimes, even out of the club where he was known to visit local stores and even order a pizza, all while still playing non-stop. Collins released 10 studio albums and several live albums and compilations during his career and also appeared as a guest with artists such as B. B. King, Gary Moore, John Lee Hooker and David Bowie. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1986.
4. Muddy Waters and The Band
November 25th, 1976: It was Thanksgiving Day and The Band was performing their farewell concert, The Last Waltz, at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California. After opening the show on their own, The Band began to invite their guests up to the stage starting with Ronnie Hawkins and then Dr. John. After that, it was a Chicago Blues jam session of 2 songs when Muddy Waters, along with Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin and Paul Butterfield came to the stage and performed “Caledonia” and the show-stopping “Mannish Boy”. A little known fact about that performance is that due to time and budget constraints, Waters was nearly bumped from the show. It was Levon Helm’s battle behind the scenes that kept not only Waters, but Perkins and Margolin as well, performing that night.
5. Bernard Allison
November 26th, 1965: Son of Chicago Electric Blues great, Luther Allison, Bernard Allison was born in Chicago, Illinois. He began accompanying his father to Blues Festivals in the early 1970s and was introduced to Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor and Albert King. Allison taught himself guitar and first showed his skills to his father at the age of 12. His father bought him a Fender Stratocaster, but insisted that young Bernard remain in school. One week after graduating high school, Allison joined Koko Taylor’s touring band and received lessons on the guitar from Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He joined his father’s touring band in Europe in 1989 and recorded his first album, The Next Generation, in Paris that same year. He collaborated closely with his father for several years until Luther’s death in 1997. His first US album, Keepin’ the Blues Alive was released that year and went to #5 on the Blues Album charts. Although he has found much success in the US, he remains based out of Paris, France to this day.
6. Robert Johnson
November 27th, 1936: Legendary Delta Blues musician, Robert Johnson spent the last day of his recording session in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. The session had begun on November 23rd and on this final day he recorded “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”, “Dead Shrimp Blues”, “Cross Road Blues”, “They’re Red Hot”, “Walkin’ Blues” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day”.
7. Jimi Hendrix
November 27th, 1942: James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle, Washington. Arguably the greatest guitarist in history, Hendrix began playing at the age of 15. After his discharge from the army in 1962, Hendrix began playing the Chitlin Circuit in backing bands for The Isley Brothers, Little Richard and Curtis Knight. He was discovered by The Animals bassist, Chas Chandler via Keith Richards’ girlfriend and moved to England in 1966. There, within months, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was born and 3 UK Top 10 hits followed. The US fell in love with Jimi after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the following year the album Electric Ladyland went to #1 on the charts. Hendrix was the world’s highest paid performer at the time and headlined both the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. On September 18th, 1970 Hendrix died of accidental barbiturate-related asphyxia at his home in London at the age of 27. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and along with Buddy Red Bow, was the first inductee into the Native American Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
8. Papa Lightfoot
November 28th, 1971: Blues singer and harmonica player, Alexander “Papa” Lightfoot died of respiratory failure at the age of 47. He was born in Natchez, Mississippi on March 2nd, 1924 and although he recorded several sessions for 6 different labels from 1949 to 1956, he remained just an obscure blues harmonica player from the south. With a revival in the interest of Delta Blues in the 1960s, Lightfoot was tracked down by record producer Steve LaVere and convinced to record again. Natchez Trace on Vault Records and Rural Blues Vol. 2 on the Liberty label were both released in 1969 briefly bringing Lightfoot to the forefront of the blues revival before his untimely death.
9. Doc Ross
November 29th, 1951: Charles Isaiah Ross, AKA Doctor Ross the Harmonica Boss and His Jump and Jive Boys made their first recordings for Chess Records at the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Produced by Sam Phillips, this session produced “Country Clown”, “Doctor Ross Boogie”, “Little Soldier Boy”, “Shake A My Hand” and “That’s Alright (Goin’ Back South)”. The songs featured Wiley Galatin on guitar with Ross on vocals, harmonica and foot stomping.
10. Smokin’ Joe Kubek
November 30th, 1956: Texas Blues guitarist and songwriter, Smokin’ Joe Kubek was born in Grove City, Pennsylvania. He grew up in the Dallas, Texas area and began playing as a teenager with the likes of Freddie King. In the 1980s he began performing with Louisiana native singer Bnois King. Kubek released his first single in 1985 on Bird Records and his first studio album, Steppin’ Out Texas Style on Bullseye Records in 1991. Since then he has released no fewer than 16 more albums on the Bullseye, Double Trouble, Blind Pig, Alligator, Bird and Delta Groove labels.