Confessin’ The Blues

By Brian Rock

Before they were known as the “world’s greatest Rock and Roll band,” The Rolling Stones considered themselves a Blues band. In fact, just prior to their first ever live performance at London’s Marquee Club in 1962, Mick Jagger confessed to the press, “I hope they don’t think we’re a Rock ‘n Roll outfit.” Researching their set list from that momentous show, reveals an eighteen song set list of covers of songs by Blues legends like Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson, Eddie Taylor, Elmore James and Chuck Berry. The influence of The Rolling Stones on music since that first show has been immeasurable. Likewise, the influence of their Blues heroes on the Rolling Stones is also immeasurable. So, it’s fitting (and perhaps a bit belated) that the Rolling Stones pay tribute to their musical forebears by curating a two-disc anthology of the original recordings that inspired them more than a half century ago.

Confessin’ The Blues contains 42 handpicked original Blues recordings from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, Otis Rush, Chuck Berry and others. The song list includes over a dozen songs that the Stones themselves recorded. So it’s clear that they are practicing what they preach, or in this case, preaching what they practiced. And what they are preaching is nothing short of the wellspring of American popular music.

As Colin Larkin asserts in the opening of the companion booklet to the CD, “Everything in popular music comes from the Blues.” The booklet itself gives a concise history of the genre and brief biographies of each of the artists featured on the compilation. But it’s the music itself that’s paramount. Listening to Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain Blues” is as stark and emotionally compelling now as when it was first recorded nearly a century ago. And therein lies the secret of the Blues. It is not trendy or flashy or complex. Blues is for people who feel music with their heart as much as hear it with their ears. And the great Bluesmen (and yes, they are all men on this collection; sadly, the Stones did not include any of the legendary Blues women like Bessie Smith, Koko Taylor, Memphis Minnie, Ida Goodson, and others) sing, moan, and testify directly from their heart. Hearing Otis Rush sing “Can’t Quit You Baby,” isn’t just the story of a love gone bad, it’s the feeling of a love gone bad; and anyone who’s ever been there knows exactly the heartbreak the song conveys.

If you only know the Blues from artists like the Stones, or Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Tedeschi Trucks Band, this album is essential to understanding their inspiration. And if you don’t know the Blues at all, then this album is essential to understanding your own humanity.


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