JULY 2003

For more than a decade now, we have been living in a golden age of recorded blues. In the ‘80s, record companies decided to switch to the CD format and began reissuing their catalog. At first, the flow was a trickle, but with the ‘90’s came a flood of old classics.

Through the rest of the 20th century, the river flowed. Most (but not quite all) of the treasures in the vaults were digitalized, transferred to CD and made available again. It was a bonanza for blues collectors who were suddenly able to purchase long-lost and rare albums; Muddy Waters Aristocrat and Chess sessions, T-Bone Walker’s Black & White and Imperial recordings, Albert Collins Imperial tracks, Ike & Tina’s Blue Thumb gems, Robert Johnson’s complete recorded history in superb sound!

It was a bonanza and many of us got in on it, fattening up our collections and widening our horizons. Then came 9/11 and with it some changes at the record companies. With business in recession, they began cutting back. Companies that released thirty CDs in a year, cut back to a dozen. Little outfits that were putting out a dozen, dropped to two or three. For the better part of two years, there was a noticeable decline in new albums. Quite a few blues companies went out of business including; House Of Blues, Cannonball, Ichiban and Pointblank.

But this year, for some reason I cannot fathom, the good times are back. Spring was a gusher, with record companies putting out new albums and reissues at a brisk pace. They are still finding old tracks that haven’t been heard by consumers before, for example the new Howlin’ Wolf in London collection has a dozen previously unreleased tracks.

The reissued “Story of the Blues”, an anthology on Columbia Records that covered the history of blues was not available for 30 years or so, and now has added 13 more tracks to bring it up to the present. Delmark celebrated 50 years of blues recording with a double disc set that includes unreleased tracks by Magic Sam and Junior Wells and others.

New CDs by Buddy Guy, Etta James, Johnnie Bassett, Peter Green, Bernard Allison, Tommy Castro, Bobby Bland and Joe Louis Walker – just to name a few, have given fans more reasons to head for the record stores.

Still to come this summer are new discs by Robert Cray and B.B. King, reissues of classic albums by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Johnny Winter, Chuck Berry, John Mayall, Albert King, Clifton Chenier and a rare Percy Mayfield collection recorded for Ray Charles’ Tangerine label.

Several new artists worth hearing also have new albums. Pauline York is a very interesting guitarist/singer from Chicago. Lynn Hyde in Portland is still one of the few female harmonica players to record. And a red hot piano player and singer from Louisiana, David Egan, has just released “Twenty Years Of Trouble,” one of the best CDs I’ve heard all year.

So even if a lot of the world seems to be slipping rapidly down the drain. There’s good news on the blues front. ‘Keep listening to the blues’ is my advice. It’s always the best way to beat the blues.