Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Other American Blues Legends Perform in the UK (1963–66)

What is Amer­i­can music? Like most things it depends on who you ask. Who­ev­er it is, you’re bound at least to hear jazz… or coun­try, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. You might even get those last three all at once. There was a brief time in the six­ties when we did, with the resur­gence of the coun­try blues, or folk blues, as it was called for the Amer­i­can Folk-Blues fes­ti­val, a long-run­ning Euro­pean tour of the Delta’s most revered names: Son­ny Boy Williamson, Mud­dy Waters, Lon­nie John­son, Big Joe Williams, Light­nin’ Hop­kins, Sug­ar Pie DeSan­to, Howl­in’ Wolf, Big Joe Turn­er, and Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe. And that’s only to name a very few. Just to get your feet wet, see all those names above per­form, in order. The footage was filmed for broad­cast on British TV between 1963 and 1966. Son­ny Boy Williams opens, strid­ing onstage in a dap­per suit, umbrel­la, bowler hat, and leather case. He takes his time arriv­ing, and in the pause between his announce­ment of “Keep It to Your­self” and the first note, he has com­plete­ly mes­mer­ized the audi­ence. Next Mud­dy Waters, with his easy charis­ma (at 5:10), deliv­ers “Got My Mojo Work­ing” like a rock ‘n’ roll hyp­no­tist, and leaves the crowd dazed.

The mojo works. Whether tra­di­tion­al acoustic or elec­tri­fied hybrid blues, you will get chills at least once dur­ing each song. That is, if you like Amer­i­can music. The British kids in the audi­ence sure did. At the tour’s first British stop, Man­ches­ter in 1962, Mick Jag­ger, Kei­th Richards, Bri­an Jones, and Jim­my Page were in the crowd. It’s said that in Lon­don, Erics Bur­don and Clap­ton watched the show. But while those young dudes invad­ed the States, the Folk Blues Tour kept rolling through Ger­many, France, the UK and points East, every year until 1972, then again from 1980 to 1985. A stag­ger­ing num­ber of those per­for­mances were record­ed and released on LP and CD. Scroll through this discog­ra­phy to get a sense of the embar­rass­ing wealth of blues the entire col­lec­tion rep­re­sents. As a bonus for col­lec­tors, the albums boast some of the coolest cov­ers to ever grace a live com­pi­la­tion. If these albums sound any­thing like the film com­pi­la­tion above, then they’ve cap­tured these musi­cians at their best—if also at times their least edgy and most com­posed. But it’s no won­der. For a great many of the blues artists rep­re­sent­ed, All­mu­sic crit­ic Bruce Elder notes, “these were the largest audi­ences they’d ever played to, and the first (and often only) decent mon­ey they ever made.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Coun­try Fea­tures 114 Illus­tra­tions of the Artist’s Favorite Musi­cians

Zep­pelin Took My Blues Away: An Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Zeppelin’s “Copy­right Indis­cre­tions”

Djan­go Rein­hardt Demon­strates His Gui­tar Genius in Rare Footage From the 1930s, 40s & 50s

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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