And rediscovering the poem was, I thought, a good excuse to pull out some of my favourite blues tracks. All these are traditional songs, mainly from the Delta or Chicago. It’s a personal collection, and some of the great names are missing (the Kings, for instance – BB and Albert – neither of whom I find particularly engaging; if my house was burning down and I could collect only 20 blues albums, both would be consigned to the flames). There are others – such as Elmore James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sonny Boy Williams, Champion Jack Dupree and Leadbelly – who would have been been on this list if only I could have stretched 20 to more than 20. Vera Hall comes top of the list not because she is the greatest of blues singers but because of all the truly great singers she is the one that probably is least known.
The blues have moved on, of course, over the past half century, and I might curate a second collection of tracks beyond the boundaries of tradition. In the meantime, enjoy that tradition.The tracks are, from top down, Vera Hall, Death Have Mercy; Robert Johnson, Hellhound on My Trail; Muddy Waters, I Feel Like Going Home; Howlin’ Wolf, Killing Floor; Bessie Smith, Gimmie a Pigfoot; John Lee Hooker, Blues Before Sunrise; Lonnie Johnson, Too Late to Cry; Son House, Death Letter Blues; Blind Willie Johnson, Nobody’s Fault But Mine; Lightnin’ Hopkins, Found My Baby Crying; Mississippi John Hurt, Make Me a Palette on the Floor; Little Walter, My Babe; Blind Gary Davis, Death Don’t Have No Mercy; Blind Willie McTell, Lord, Send Me an Angel; Jimmie Witherspoon, Ain’t Nobody’s Business; Joe Turner, How Long Blues; JB Lenoir, Alabama Blues; Ma Rainey, Call Me Anything, But Call Me; Mississippi Fred McDowell, You Gotta Move; and Roy Brown, Hard Luck Blues.