Electric blues led the blues revival in the 60’s, but it was Texas blues that dragged it by the scruff of its neck and whirled its howling sound into stratosphere.
Musicians Jimmie Vaughan and Johnny Winter, and the blues-rock band ZZ Top had been making waves since the 1970s, but played a significant part in the blues comeback. Albert Collins continued to make landmark albums, and teamed up with Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray on the Grammy-winning ‘Showdown’. Other acts like Doyle Bramhall, Kim Wilson, Larry Davis, Ezra Charles, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Lou Ann Barton kept the Texas flag high. But the one person who played the biggest role in popularising Texas blues was the great guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was a major star along with his band Double Trouble. Their 1983 album ‘Texas Flood’ was a super-success, and his style of guitaring attracted scores of fans. Sadly, he met an untimely death in a helicopter crash, when he was just 35 years old.
Stevie’s elder brother Jimmie placed his own stamp on the Texas blues scene. He had formed the group Fabulous Thunderbrids along with singer-harp player Kim Wilson in the mid-1970s, but released his most successful music in the 1980s. He eventually quit the group and has played solo since.
The other Texas giant was Johnny Winter. He burst in the scene in the late 1960s and later collaborated with Muddy Waters, producing three of his albums. He released his last album ‘Roots’ two years ago, and continues to be prolific on the live circuit. For their part, ZZ Top was one of the most consistent blues-rock acts, since the early 1970s. Comprising singer-guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, the group initially had a signature guitar-driven sound which it soon replaced with synthesisers, only to return to the earlier sound later. Their albums ‘Tres Hombres’, ‘Eliminator’ and ‘Rhythmeen’ represent these three phases.
While these were some of the main Texas blues acts, popular bluesmen Fenton Robinson and Lowell Fulson also dabbled with the style, though they were known for other types of blues. Some younger musicians also made a mark. Among the contemporary artistes, Chris Duarte plays a style of Texas blues-rock that blends the blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. Alan Haynes has made a mark as a guitarist, and has accompanied the Vaughan brothers, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray and Bonnie Raitt.
But the man who’s being touted as the future of Texas blues is 29-year-old Gary Clark Jr. His fuzzy guitar sound and smooth vocal style has created waves, and his appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010 has earned him a major following.Over the years, scores of outstanding Texas blues albums have been released, but which ones are a must have in a blues collection.
Our pick of the Top 10 next week, so watch this space.