The Original Chicago Blues: Part Two

When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too) and Key To The Highway: two of the most covered blues songs of all time

 

This second clip in the Original Chicago Blues series concentrates on the most prolific blues recording artists of the 1930s and 1940s: Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy. Both recorded for Lester Melrose in Chicago and both were regarded as Melrose’s “right hand man”, at one time or another.

Tampa Red and Bill Broonzy were integral members of Melrose’s pioneering production-line recording operation, a technique Motown would later emulate. In other words, they were Melrose’s regular session players, and would play, unheralded, on hundreds of Chicago blues records produced by Melrose for Bluebird, and other labels, during the 1930s and 1940s.

Below is a rare photograph of Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy together in the same photograph. Red’s the short one in the back row and Bill is the big one in the front. Check out the other legendary blues artists in the photo, in the caption below.

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Take a listen to Tampa Red’s magnum opus, When Things Go Wrong, now 66 years old, one of the most covered blues of all time. We also hear the song Red based it on, Things ‘Bout Comin’ My Way, written and recorded by Red in 1931, making it an incredible 75 years old. And both songs still stand the test of time.

In reply to Red’s classic When Things Go Wrong, we also hear Big Bill Broonzy’s equally iconic Key To The Highway, apparently based on a much older traditional African-American folk song.  Big Bill Broonzy toured Britain and Europe constantly between 1951 and 1957, and Bill’s countless appearances, in the folk clubs of London and Edinburgh, for example, greatly influenced the UK folk boom of the 1950s.

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It was Big Bill Broonzy, more than anyone else, who inspired the generation of British blues musicians like the Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zeppelin, who took blues back to white America in the 1960s.

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3 comments

  1. Keys To The Highway and Trouble In Mind- both a rare departure from the call and response 12 bar format with the first two lines being the same, it seems. Is there any info on what the older African-American folksong was that Keys To The Highway is based on, Paul?

    1. Spot on, Dianne. No info yet on the precursor to Key To The Highway but will look out for it. Have you heard the Derek and the Dominoes version?

    2. Fantastic stuff…Just went over and checked it out again to remind myself just how good it really is…if you play something like this to a kid who has been raised on a dreary musical diet of power chords, grunted vocals and no improvisation you can see the scales fall from their eyes in an instant. 🙂

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