Welcome to Sunny’s Place. I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the blues, and I’d like to share it with you. Here are links to my favorite performance videos, as well as to audio of interviews with musicians I’ve had as guests on my two radio shows, After Hours and Blue Monday. I’ll be adding more on a regular basis. If you’d like to dig deeper, I highly recommend the Smithsonian Folkways website. BluesDisciples.org is also an interesting site. Enjoy!
Les Blank’s unique films are a hoot to watch. This film about Lightnin’ Hopkins stands out in the way it captures Lightnin’s
Mance Lipscomb was a Texas guitarist who played all kinds of music, from rags to blues to dance tunes. He had a beautiful
fingerpicking style. Like Lightnin’ Hopkins, he played house parties and gatherings before becoming popular on the folk circuit. Les Blank documented his life in a great film called “A Well Spent Life”, and Lipscomb created an oral autobiography called I Say Me for a Parable narrated by Glen Alyn.
Fred McDowell was a slide guitar player from Como, Mississippi. He played mostly open tunings, with the slide on his third
finger, and got a beautiful, vocal like sound. While Alan Lomax recorded him early on, he became known later on via The Rolling Stones’ cover of “You Gotta Move”, and a recording of his called “I Don’t Play No Rock ‘n’ Roll”. In this video, he is playing in open “E” tuning.
R.L. Burnside lived in Holly Springs, MS, not far from where Fred McDowell lived. You can hear McDowell’s rhythm in
To me, Big Joe Williams is one of the greatest of the solo blues artists. A nine string guitar player, Joe tunes to a G chord on his
Melvin “L’il Son” Jackson is the writer of the blues staple “Rock Me Baby”, which he originally released as “Rockin’ And Rollin'”.
Known as the king of the endless boogie, John Lee Hooker’s droning guitar style, filled with strange overtones and fluid
rhythms, is one of the most haunting of all the blues singers. He has recorded hundreds of tracks for multiple labels, sometimes under other names. His unique voice crossed genres, and he became a genuine superstar, sharing bills and collaborating with well known artists.
Robert Pete Williams’ song “Grown So Ugly” was covered by Captain Beefheart and that brought his name to the
attention of wider audience. He had an idiosyncratic style that, like John Lee Hooker, did not follow regular timing and rhythms. He spent time in Louisiana State Penitentiary, and some of his songs are about this experience.
Like Robert Pete Williams, Robert “Guitar” Welch was a prisoner at Angola prison. Other prisoners there called him “King Of The
Sam Chatmon, born Vivian Chatmon in Bolton, MS, was a member of the Mississippi Sheiks, a popular guitar and
fiddle group of the 1930s that also included his brothers, fiddler Lonnie Chatmon, and guitarist Bo Carter, known for his bawdy blues songs. The group also included guitarist Walter Vinson, who co-wrote “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”. Chatmon’s guitar and voice, and the songs filled with double entendres, defined a sound for that period of pre-war blues.
Born near Fred McDowell’s home town of Como, MS, Jessie Mae Hemphill was part of a musical family. Her paternal grandfather
was Sid Hemphill, whose fife and drum band was well known in the area. Jessie Mae played in that band, but made a name for herself as a kind of female John Lee Hooker. She had a raw, overtone-filled guitar sound like Hooker’s, with a singular voice that twisted and turned over her guitar playing. She was a striking figure on stage, dressed in sequined dresses, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. She created a rhythm for herself with a foot tambourine.
Born Robert Lee McCollum in Helena, AK in 1909, Robert Nighthawk was a very influential slide player who learned from
Houston Stackhouse. Nighthawk performed with such musicians as Big Joe Williams, Henry Townshend and Sonny Boy Williamson. His slide playing was similar to Muddy Waters, and his recording “Annie Lee Blues” reached number 13 on the Billboard R&B charts. This video is part of a great film about Maxwell Street in Chicago, a market where blues musicians would play on weekends.
Muddy Waters was the man to beat when it came to the blues. He had the best players in Chicago in his band – Jimmy
Rogers, Little Walter, Otis Spann, S.P. Leary. He had a voice that invited but defied imitation. And his stage demeanor was dignified and highly sexual all at once. Muddy’s slide guitar playing was similar to Robert Nighthawk’s. He often played in straight tuning (Long Distance Call, Honey Bee) but also played in G and A open tunings (Louisiana Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied). This video has Otis Spann on piano, Luther “Snake” Johnson on guitar, Paul Oscher on harmonica.
Howlin’ Wolf, AKA Chester Burnett, was a huge man with a powerful voice and a humorous stage persona.
Wolf played harmonica and guitar, but his sound was defined by his voice, which was perfectly augmented by sideman Hubert Sumlin’s guitar, and Henry Gray’s rolling piano. Wolf’s rhythm’s sometimes bordered on Caribbean, much the way Professor Longhair’s did.
Frankie Lee Sims, a Texas guitarist, was the nephew of Texas Alexander and a cousin of Lightnin’ Hopkins. He is
most known for his hit “Lucy Mae Blues”, but his catalog is filled with great tunes with a beat that borders on rock ‘n’ roll. Sims appeared on stages with T-Bone Walker, and worked with both King Curtis and Albert Collins.
Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White was a Mississippi slide guitarist who was BB King’s first cousin. White was heavily
influenced by Blind Willie Johnson and Charlie Patton. His “Fixin’ To Die” was covered by Bob Dylan. White has a great percussive style to his picking, and often “plays drums” on the body of his guitar in between licks.
Robert Lockwood Jr.’s mother dated Robert Johnson, so Robert was able to learn guitar directly from Johnson.
Lockwood’s style draws a lot from Johnson, but also from many other players, including jazz players. Lockwood can be heard on recordings by many of the great blues singers, including Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Otis Spann.
Johnny Shines was from Memphis, TN, where as a young boy he played slide in juke joints and in the street.
He quit playing for a while and did farm work, but a chance meeting with Robert Johnson got him back into playing. The two traveled together for a number of years. Johnny Shines’ quivering voice and his Johnson-influenced guitar playing are gripping together, with an intensity similar to that of Robert Johnson.
Jimmy Rogers was second guitar player in the Muddy Waters Blues Band in the 1950s. He also had his own
R&B hits as a band leader with “That’s All Right” and “Walking By Myself”. Rogers and Muddy Waters were cut from the same delta blues cloth, and they developed an intricate interweaving of two guitars that heavily influenced the way Keith Richards and Brian Jones played later on in the early Rolling Stones. Rogers is in the Blues Hall of Fame, and his son, Jimmy D. Lane, is a performing guitarist and producer.
Eddie Taylor had a distinct style that mixed stinging vibrato notes with a driving bottom rhythm. He taught
Jimmy Reed to play guitar, and is playing second guitar on many Jimmy Reed recordings. Taylor led a band in Chicago for many years and released some great records on his own, in particular a live recording from Japan. Taylor’s use of metal fingerpicks and a thumb pick added to his unique sound. In a live performance, Taylor could hit one single stinging note that would cut the air and shoot all the way down your spine. Taylor’s son, Eddie Taylor Jr., is a guitarist and performer.
I first saw Furry Lewis in a film of the Memphis Blues Festival in 1968. That festival exposed many young kids to the great
blues players. Furry played both straight fingerpicking and slide guitar, and his style of playing was very interwoven with his voice. He might stop singing and let his slide complete the sentence. In that way he was a real story teller with his music. Born in 1893 in Greenwood, MS, Furry became very popular on the folk circuit in the 1960s, and even appeared on the Johnny Carson Show and in a Burt Reynolds film. Joni Mitchell immortalized him in her song “Furry Sings The Blues”.
Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten was a left-handed guitarist and banjo player who became popular on the folk circuit in the 1960s. In
a similar vein to Mississippi John Hurt, her picking style was complex, with bass runs and melodies working together. Born in 1896, she wrote the well known folk staple “Freight Train” when she was only 11 years old. She received a Grammy in 1985 when she was 90 years old, and was declared a National Heritage Fellow in 1984.
Born in Centerville, TX in 1912, Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins’ sound defines Texas country blues. He learned guitar from his
cousin Texas Alexander and played many house parties and gatherings with Blind Lemon Jefferson. He went on to develop his own style using a round hole acoustic guitar with a pickup in it. Lightnin’ was an engaging entertainer, telling jokes, philosophizing, and doing tricks on the guitar neck. After being “rediscovered” by folklorist Samuel Charters in the 1960s, Hopkins went on to record hundreds of recordings. He was cousin to Frankie Lee Sims.
Son House was a huge influence on both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Born in 1902 in Lyon, MS,
House’s searing slide guitar and voice together created a sound that was incredibly moving. Having been a preacher, he brought the intensity of preaching to his performances. House did recordings for Paramount and was also recorded for the Library Of Congress by folklorist Alan Lomax. His musical career was interrupted by a shooting incident that landed him in Parchman Farm prison for 15 years. He was rediscovered during the 1960s and played many folk festivals, including Newport. Blues guitarist Rory Block knew House and recorded many of his songs.