North Hollywood Shootout is the new Blues Traveler album. Since they have the word "Blues" in their title, we have to take them at their word and assume they are a 'blues rock' band. Certainly, they wouldn't lie. It's been proven--mathematically!--that people love "blues rock" bands. What else explains the extraordinary popularity of the Blues Magoos? Their continued success is but one example of how clear, concise marketing and labeling can help benefit everyone involved.
However, not everyone is a marketing genius. Some bands worry themselves over "creative" ideas and other abstract concepts that sound great in academic journals and fanzines but have little proven power in the "free market." Milton Friedman would never allow a band to call themselves "Ten Years After." And "The Rolling Stones"? By gathering no moss, one would assume they neglect the benefits of compound interest! However, Mick Jagger attended the London School of Economics and I certainly wouldn't argue with his financial acumen, since it's been pointed out to me that he is substantially more successful than I am. Substantially!
However, the blues is something you feel in your soul. Your woman leaves you. Your boss fires you. And the government denies you your unemployment benefits because technically you quit and are ineligible.
The best Blues Rock does not sound like the blues. Blues bands do what they do on a very different scale. While Canned Heat once backed John Lee Hooker, it was best for Mr. Hooker to relieve them of their duties. A bunch of kids backed Howlin' Wolf and the album was named something like This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album and He Doesn't Like It Because He Had To Listen To It (You Have Better Options).
Blues rock, like rock itself, is best when it's loud and offensive and most people wish you'd turn it off. Technical proficiency is nice, once in awhile, but really it's best when the amps bleed.
Here are 25 Blues Rock Bands throughout Rock History who I like. You may not.
And I'm sure you'll let me know about it. What a great country!
25) Big Brother And The Holding Company: Janis Joplin eventually had to ditch these guys because they were considered too rough and raw and she wanted to be more classy. So she started recording with guys with horns. Had she lived she might've ended up with an entire string section. She was best when these loud mouths were challenging her every scream.
24) Canned Heat: Bob "Big Bear" Hite would never have made it in the video age. So it's a good thing that Canned Heat made their impact felt back when everyone was a big, smelly hippie and bathing was optional. They tended to record songs that were "too long" by an hour, but they always sounded drunk and that's what their listeners would consider a level playing field.
23) Blue Cheer: BC could've been bigger than Black Sabbath if they'd stayed together. But who knows how they would've grown. As it stands, they were very loud and people with cultivated tastes didn't like them very much. But like good cheap wine, they had their followers.
22) White Stripes: There aren't many modern day bluesmen who also sell records. But when he isn't ripping off the Cure, Jack White delivers the boogie and the blues in a way that ensures it's never dead on arrival.
21) John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers: John Mayall was like the guidance counselor for aspiring blues guitarists, employing the best of the best and making them better, so they could then go off on their own and make tons more money than Mayall would ever see. He offered sanctuary to Eric Clapton when he was done with the Yardbirds and had yet to form Cream. And provided shelter from the storm to Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green. And Mayall recorded the Blues From Laurel Canyon album, the best blues-rock album ever about a man's three week vacation in California, where he decided to wear loincloths long before Ted Nugent thought of it.
20) Ten Years After: Terrible name. Great band. Alvin Lee could play ten thousand notes a minute and often did. Which taken alone isn't much. That's not musicianship, that's athleticism. But he integrated it into some fine albums such as Ssshhh..., Cricklewood Green and Watt. Sure, his performance at Woodstock was "legendary," but there's plenty more to enjoy.
19) Johnny Winter: Johnny Winter was one scary looking dude. Albinos are like that. They look like ghosts and when one sings of human pain and suffering and feeling like an outcast you know he ain't fakin'. His singing is pretty tortured and his guitar licks sound like a man trampling a fence regardless of the local ordinances forbidding him to do so.
18) Black Keys: Recording in a tire factory in Ohio or whatever the story is what makes these guys instant shoe-ins. Two guys who love it loud and keep it raw and then of course add a few people here and there because they get bored sometimes. The answer might be to move out of Ohio, or move to that trendy Hyde Park neighborhood in Cincinnati I keep hearing about on that Property Virgins show. It would ruin the band, but maybe there's a career recording "happy rock."
17) Rory Gallagher: Taste are one of those groups that so many Y! Music readers ask me to mention more of and I just never get around to covering them. But now that can be rectified since its guitarist, Rory Gallagher, has made this list. Rory passed in 1995, so he isn't reading this column the same way as you or me, but when he was in his prime in the 1970s, he was a lot more famous than he is today. Which isn't the way it's supposed to happen. Being dead is supposed to help your career.
16) Gov't Mule: Also picked as one of my favorite Southern Rock Bands, why not let them on the list for Blues Rock as well? They qualify and they love the music enough to demolish it when they perform live.
15) Gary Moore: While Moore made his name with a band called Skid Row that did NOT include Sebastian Bach--and did NOT play glam metal or perform power ballads--he became even more well known once he turned up the volume on Thin Lizzy. However, at heart, Moore is a blues player and he always returns to that mode when he needs to rejuvenate his spirit, working with Cream's Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce for BBM, a band name that sounds like a medical condition.
14) ZZ Top: Beard power never tires and it enables these Texas boys to make more lists than seems fathomable by anyone's standards...underneath all their catchy videos and snazzy gimmicks lurks a band that can mug you in broad daylight with their musical chops. Watch out for these guys and listen to them on 8-track!
13) The Yardbirds: The Yardbirds were more a farm team for the future British Guitar Gods...I mean, c'mon, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page? This is like an all-star team. Keith Relf never achieved the status of a famous iconic singer and that's a shame, since there was nothing wrong with him. Or was there?
12) The Allman Brothers Band: Any band that can turn an idea into an album side must clearly be a blues rock band. Old acoustic bluesmen recorded short songs that fit on one side of a 78rpm. Rock bands needed to fill 20 minutes of a 33-1/3 album side. Imagine how much worse these bands would've been if they thought they needed to fill an entire 80 minute CD?
11) Black Sabbath: One of my favorite blues bands because they simply demolished the blues. They turned the blues into their own personal expression of listless depression. Downer riffs and draggy tempos and a singer that sounded like a strung out zombie wishing for sedation. And quite loud at that.
10) The Animals: Eric Burdon sang with a chip on his shoulder and his band didn't back down long before Tom Petty admitted to doing the exact same thing (with lesser results, one might say). The Animals still managed to score pop hits and sneak into that British Invasion and eventually they went "psychedelic" and became "groovy" for a spell, but there was an internal toughness that made their name stick.
9) Jeff Beck Group: Following the "Bob Newhart" school of self-promotion, Jeff Beck left the Yardbirds to front a band with his own name in the title, forming in a sense yet another farm team for future superstars as Rod Stewart was signed on as a vocalist, future Rolling Stone Ron Wood was thrown onto bass and Aynsley Dunbar, who would go on to play with anyone who could pronounce his name (including Jefferson Starship, Frank Zappa, Sammy Hagar, and Journey), sat behind the drums. Jeff Beck, however, has proven to have difficulty getting along with others and has spent much of his time assembling new bands where he eventually gets bored and goes back to working on his cars.
8) Fleetwood Mac: Before Buckingham and Nicks hi-jacked the group for their nefarious pop ends, Fleetwood Mac was once the performing and recording vehicle for a man named Peter Green who was considered a top notch blues guitarist that others envied and who had apprenticed with John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers. They even had a tune called "Black Magic Woman" that Santana would take as their own hit single. And a catchy little number called "The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)" that the boys in Judas Priest would take upon their Harley and ride into the sunset.
7) Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Though they were called the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, their most noted member was guitarist Mike Bloomfield who scared the crap out of other guitar players and performed with Bob Dylan when Bob decided to go electric and scare away his timid little folk crowd. Butterfield did not perform, as Dylan didn't need two harmonica players in his band.
6) Robin Trower: Robin Trower left Procol Harum because he could. Because he wanted to see his own name in lights and because he was destined to play the blues and Procol Harum kept hooking up with orchestras and/or naming their albums poorly. (Would you buy an album called Exotic Birds And Fruit?) Just take a look at this overly tanned ensemble and listen to their burned out visions and you'll hear the effects of barbiturates on the entire early '70s. Man, it must've been fun to sleep through that!
5) The Jimi Hendrix Experience: The ironic thing here is that Hendrix is actually at his least interesting when he plays the blues and he's still better than most of the competition. However, the blues was only one small aspect to his legacy and why he doesn't feature higher on this list. "Red House" is fine, but it's hardly what I'd pull out to show others his greatness. Though, granted, his tone is forever amazing even when he's asleep.
4) The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones began life as a blues band. Were they actually better than their competition? They looked better. Any band with Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards has an edge on the competition in that regard and this is back when Richards looked like a clean-cut kid and not the walking dead. But they were practically a Benevolent League for the old bluesmen, striking up interest in careers long left for dead. And to this day they drag out their heroes to join them onstage. (And I don't mean Slash!)
3) Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: Stevie Ray Vaughan was the man who was supposed to bring the blues into the 21st Century and judging by how many Guitar Magazine covers he's been on, I'd say he's doing it even if he isn't alive to help see it through. He did so by remaining true to the tradition while still expanding the range. And by that much valued asset of playing very, very loud.
2) Led Zeppelin: Another British group who decided the best way to perform the blues was to blow it up. The kids seemed to enjoy it. And if a few old Willie Dixon songs and Robert Johnson tunes got maimed in the process, well, that's just how art tramples over life sometimes.
1) Cream: Zeppelin turned the blues into an art project, while Cream just made it louder and longer than anyone thought it could withstand. The "power trio" format was ingenious, since everyone knows the more people you add to a band the worse it gets and the more ways you have to split the money. Who needs some talentless loser hogging the stage as your lead singer when you can do it all yourself?