And note, the following piece will only cover the time frame from 1964-70, and only British singers.
There are always caveats and guidelines, so here are mine: As incredible as John Lennon and Paul McCartney were as rock and roll and pop singers (among my all-time faves, of course), they were never blues singers — notwithstanding Lennon’s vocal on “Twist and Shout,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “This Boy,” and McCartney’s on “Oh! Darling” and “Helter Skelter.” There really is a difference in style, even though both styles are steeped deeply in black blues voicings.
Mick Jagger may cast himself as a blues singer, but to me, as good as he is in the way The Rolling Stones do their Chicago blues versions, Jagger just ain’t a great blues singer and is not on my list. Jagger does the Stones perfectly and he’s done wonders with his very limited range, but in truth, the Stones were a better blues band than Jagger was a blues singer during the time that they were a blues cover band.
Neither were Elton John, David Bowie, Ray Davies, Roger Daltrey or Peter Frampton stylistically blues singers.
Also, Pink Floyd may have started out as a blues band (they were named after two blues singers, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council), but Syd Barrett and Roger Waters were never blues singers.
You either get where I’m coming from or you don’t, and I’m ready to hear your comments, so bring ’em on!
Most of you will know the British singers I will list. I have read multiple interviews with most of them over the past 50 or so years. They all share similar stories that led to the idea for this article. All of these singers, along with countless other musicians, somehow started to hear American black music on the radio late at night or from the 45 singles given to them by a family member or family friend, who brought the music back from the U.S. and it resonated in ways that can only be described as culturally connected, at the same time!
Most of these British singers cite very similar influences such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, J.B. Lenoir, Memphis Slim, Big Mama Thornton, T-Bone Walker, Big Bill Broonzy, Sunnyland Slim, Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon ... I could go on, but first, the thing to know is that if you love this stuff and want to know more about it, there are a couple of Grammy Award-winning DVDs that feature all of the above performers, plus many more. The performances are from a series of German TV shows that were filmed between 1962 and 1966. These artists were treated so well in Germany (ironic, actually, as this was filmed less than 20 years after WWII) that many of them didn’t want to return to the U.S. Memphis Slim moved permanently to Paris, and Sonny Boy Williamson stayed in England for a while and joined The Yardbirds for an album.
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