There have been a lot of excellent tribute albums to blues artists over the past twenty years. We’ve chosen 16 excellent albums, some by just one artist covering the music of another artist from the past, and some with various artists covering the songs. In each case, the new artist has both re-interpreted the songs and kept the spirit of the originals intact, honouring the legacy of the original artist.
Billy Boy Arnold, Sings Big Bill Broonzy (2012)
Veteran blues harp player Arnold turns in a very fine acoustic guitar driven tribute album to the great Bill Broonzy. Broonzy had a very long and varied career as a musical artist, after life as a sharecropper, preacher and soldier. He copyrighted more than 300 songs along the way and had a wide range of songs in his performing repertoire including ragtime, country blues, urban blues, jazz, folk songs and spirituals. Arnold gives us 15 classic Broonzy country blues numbers.
Rory Block Avalon, A Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt (2013)
Rory Block is one of the world’s greatest living acoustic blues artists, whose talent has been recognized many times by WC Handy and Blues Music Awards. She has lovingly recorded a number of tribute albums to some of the major country blues artists, including Skip James, Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson, Son House and Rev. Gary Davis. All of them are terrific, featuring Block’s outstanding guitar chops, but we’ve gone with her tribute to the wonderful John Hurt, whose guitar picking style underpins the technique of so many acoustic artists that have come after hum.
Rory Block, A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith (2018)
Block turns her attention to the Empress of the Blues, after her set of 6 tribute albums to the founding fathers of the blues. Everything on the album is played by Rory Block, and as ever, the guitar picking and slide work are masterful. The songs, clearly, are very differently treated to the originals, Block cleverly translating the big band arrangements into guitar accompaniment. It makes for a fine and hugely enjoyable tribute to Bessie Smith. [Check out our interview with Rory here]
Eric Clapton, Me and Mr Johnson (2004)
Hugely successful album, selling over 2m copies. Clapton said he’s been driven and influenced all his life by Robert Johnson’s work. It was, he said, “the keystone of my musical foundation…now, after all these years, his music is like my oldest friend. It is the finest music I have ever heard.” The album, consisting of 14 of Johnson’s songs, sees Clapton in fine form, and features, as you’d expect, top-notch lead and slide guitar. A companion album and video release entitled Sessions for Robert J was released also released, featuring different versions of each of the songs from the studio album.
Fabrizio Poggi and Guy Davis, Sonny and Brownie’s Last Train (2017)
As fine an acoustic blues album as you will hear. Two top modern-day artists, Davis on guitar and Poggi on harmonica, both at the top of their game and channelling two of history’s greatest acoustic bluesmen. There’s a warmth, feeling and joy in the way these songs are presented that draws you in and puts a big smile on your face. The album was nominated for a Grammy. [check out our review here]
Marie Knight, Let Us Get Together: A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis (2007)
Recorded by the late Marie Knight two years before she passed away, aged 89. Knight toured widely with Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the 1940s, but left to become a successful solo gospel and R&B singer. Davis was an incredible guitarist and Larry Campbell’s blues picking and guitar work more than does justice to the reverend’s genius. Knight’s soulful, gospel vocals in these 12 gospel blues songs pay a handsome tribute to the often overlooked artistry of Rev. Gary Davis. Superb. [check out our take on Rev Gary Davis here]
Mark Miller, Ain’t It Grand: The Gospel Songs of Blind Willie McTell (2010)
Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell, sang Bob Dylan. True, but McTell also left us a fine collection of gospel blues songs, and Americana/Country artist Mark Miller’s gospel tribute has 10 songs which McTell regularly performed. Lovely old timey feel to the album, with some fine acoustic finger picked and slide guitar.
Various Artists, God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson (2016)
“Eleven stirring renditions which replicate the soul of the songs, not just the sounds.” Has earned plaudits from all quarters and Grammy Award nominations for Best Roots Gospel Album and Best American Roots Performance for the Blind Boys of Alabama’s recording of Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time. The album was produced by Jeffrey Gaskill of Burning Rose Productions. The album features a star-studded cast which includes Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Derek and Susan Trucks, Luther Dickinson and the Cowboy Junkies. [check out our conversation with album producer Jeffrey Gaskill here]
Various Artists, First Came Memphis Minnie (2012)
Maria Muldaur was the driving force behind this excellent set of Memphis Minnie’s songs, featuring Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, Bonnie Raitt, Koko Taylor and others. Dave Bromberg, Bob Margolin and Billy Branch all contribute to the music. Memphis Minnie was a towering blues figure and a gifted singer, songwriter, and guitarist whose recording career spanned more than 40-plus years, during which she recorded around 200 songs.
Various Artists, Muddy Waters: All Star Tribute to a Legend (2011)
A recording of a Kennedy Centre concert from October 1997 with an impressive all-star cast of blues musicians, including Muddy’s own son Bill Morganfield, Kok Taylor, Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite, John Hiatt, Keb’ Mo’ and Robert Lockwood Jr. Songs include Muddy Waters favourites like Hoochi Coochie Man, Can’t Be Satisfied, Got My Mojo Working, Rollin’ and Tumblin’. A DVD is also available.
Various Artists, Shout Sister Shout: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe (2003)
18 Sister Rosetta songs by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Joan Osborne, Janis Ian, Marcia Ball, Maria Muldaur, the Holmes Brothers and others. Born in 1915, Rosetta Tharpe was a major star during the 1940s and 50s, sensationally filling arenas. Her trail-blazing rock ’n’ roll tinged gospel performances, driven by her exceptional electric guitar work, sent audiences wild and made her a major celebrity. She inspired the early generation of rock ‘n’ roll artists, and Johnny Cash called her his favourite singer and biggest inspiration. This stirring album has a contribution by Marie Knight, who toured and sang with Sister Rosetta. [check out our piece on Rosetta Tharpe here]
Various Artists, Things About Coming My Way: A Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks (2009)
The Mississippi Sheiks were a popular and influential American guitar and fiddle group of the 1930s. They only lasted for about 5 years, but had a prodigious output and, while adept at many styles of popular music of the time, were notable mostly for playing country blues. Artists featured include North Mississippi Allstars, Bruce Cockburn, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Madeleine Peyroux. Kelly Joe Phelps and others. 17 classic 1930s songs in a sunny, feel good production.
Various Artists, ZZ Top: A Tribute from Friends (2011)
Eleven great ZZ Top tracks like Sharp Dressed Man, Gimme All Your Loving, and La Grange by artists from country to heavy metal, including Grace Potter, NickelBack, Jamey Johnson and Daughtry. It’s great rockin’, head banging fun all the way.
Various Artists, Avalon Blues: The Music of Mississippi John Hurt (2001)
John Hurt is the ideal entry point to introduce anyone to country blues. His guitar work is mesmerizing and has been the foundation for many of today’s acoustic guitar players. The story goes that Andres Segovia, after hearing John Hurt’s guitar playing for the first time, demanded to know who the second guitarist was. This loving tribute by a high-class cast covers 15 of Hurt’s best loved songs. There are contributions from Taj Mahal, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Bruce Cockburn, John Hiatt, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and Lucinda Williams. A joy.
Walter Trout, Luther’s Blues: A Tribute to Luther Allison (2013)
Ace guitarist Walter Trout pays tribute to his great friend Luther Allison with 13 songs, including one written by Trout, When Luther Played The Blues. Allison was a wonderfully talented guitarist, who died in 1997 at the age of 57. He had been discovered by Howlin’ Wolf in 1957 and then mentored by Freddie King. His live performances were quite a thing, sometimes lasting four or more hours. In Trout’s song, he highlights a great quote by Allison “Leave your ego, play the music, love the people.” [check out our interview with Walter here]
Joe Bonamassa, Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks (2015)
A recording of Bonamassa’s concert from August 2014 at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Colorado. The show celebrates the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, featuring many of the two blues legends’ greatest songs as well as a few of Bonamassa’s own songs. It is probably one of the best live blues albums of recent years. As usual, Bonamassa’s guitar work in incendiary, but his singing in the show is exceptional. Available in either 2-CD or DVD formats.