Courtesy of the Delta Haze Corporation
One of the two known photos of Robert Johnson. This portrait was taken by the Hooks Bros. Photography Company in Memphis, Tenn., circa 1935.
One of the two known photos of Robert Johnson. This portrait was taken by the Hooks Bros. Photography Company in Memphis, Tenn., circa 1935. Courtesy of the Delta Haze Corporation
The blues recordings that came out of the Mississippi Delta from the late 1920s through the late '30s have had an enormous impact on American music, influencing everyone from The Rolling Stones to Cassandra Wilson. It's powerful music that is also, by turns, stark, poetic, eerie, humorous, topical and beautiful.
Most Delta blues recordings were solo performances by singer-guitarists, though several notable recordings also feature some sort of minimal accompaniment — generally a second guitarist.
In the following list, you'll hear four of the greatest Delta blues artists, as well as an example of what some of today's musicians are doing with this timeless music in the 21st century. The first three songs are from decades-old 78 RPM records, so you'll hear "surface noise" from those discs, but don't let that put you off. Even through the hiss and crackle of well-worn 78s, the brilliance and power of these songs is undeniable and unforgettable.
This article originally ran July 13, 2009.
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