Three blues guitar greats born 12 miles apart.
If there was one small area of earth where three of the world’s most influential blues or blues rock guitarists would be born, just a year apart, where do you think it might be?
The car below is a bit of a clue, not an easy clue, mind you. It’s explained at the end of the post.
But, I bet Mississippi’s most people’s first bet.
Mississippi? Isn’t it obvious?
The deep South is the first place many blues fans might nominate, mainly because of the legacy of the great Mississippi guitar players like Stones’ inspiration, Muddy Waters; Eric Clapton’s 1930s ‘Crossroads’ hero, Robert Johnson and the late, great B.B. (Blues Boy) King. While you’re here, why not check out Eric and B.B playing together below.
But before these three guitar innovators came even earlier Mississippi influencers, bluesmen like Mississippi John Hurt (who features on the cover of my book, America’s Gift), the mighty Howlin’ Wolf and Wolf’s tiny teacher, Charlie Patton, described by many as ‘The Father of Delta Blues’.
Born in 1891, in Bolton (near Jackson), Mississippi, influential blues guitarists don’t come much earlier than Charlie Patton.
A tiny guy with a big voice and enormous presence, Charlie played the guitar with his teeth, behind his back, lying on his back and in all sorts of other ways – pioneering the sort of showmanship Jimi Hendrix was famous for half a century later.
As Charlie Patton taught Howlin’ Wolf, even Charlie Patton, in turn, had a blues guitar teacher, a black Mississippi farmer called Henry Sloan, whom history’s unfortunately mainly forgotten. Henry Sloan taught Charlie most of his guitar tricks, in Bolton, Mississippi, in the late nineteenth century and, later, at the famous Dockery plantation, regarded by many as the place Delta Blues began.
The U.S. Census tells us Henry Sloan’s father migrated to Mississippi from South Carolina around 1862, so, as far as we know, Mississippi’s blues lineage starts with the son, Henry, born in 1870.
Not only Henry Sloan and Charlie Patton hailed from Bolton, Mississippi. So, too, did the influential Armenter Chatmon, better known as Bo Carter, a blues guitarist and vocalist who also managed and (often) played in, with his two brothers, the Mississippi Sheiks. The Sheiks’ biggest hit, written by violinist Lonnie Chatmon, was the now blues standard, ‘Sitting on Top of the World’.
Why not check out probably the best-known black blues group of the 1930s, The Mississippi Sheiks, on paulmerryblues.com
Bolton, Ms. a contender?
Bolton, Mississippi, is certainly a contender for that special place three world-class blues guitarists might hail from. But how influential were they really? Charlie Patton taught Howlin’ Wolf, who was pretty influential internationally, so Charlie P might fit the bill. Charlie Patton’s teacher Henry Sloan, might qualify, too.
Close but no cigar.
But we can’t have both Henry and Charlie as major influencers, since both played the same type of formative Delta Blues. Also, nobody knows what Henry Sloan sounded like, which sort of rules him out, too. Some contemporary reports (Son House, Tommy Johnson) even hint Henry was better than Charlie and wrote the songs Charlie became famous for.
As for Bo Carter, best known for his bawdy hokum blues songs, Bo was, admittedly, one of the 1930s’ top recording stars. Blues, though, was confined, in those days, mainly to America’s comparatively small black market. To me, then, Bo’s influence wasn’t international. Indeed, the hokum blues era virtually disappeared when Bo did.
What about Texas?
So, where else can you find one small tract of earth where three of the world’s most influential blues guitarists hail from.
Texas has had heaps of influential blues guitar talent, like the great T-Bone Walker (above), Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan (plus the rock ‘n’ roll genius of Buddy Holly). But Texas is a massive state and those guitarists don’t hail from the same patch of land.
And what about England?
We’re talking a 12-mile patch covering south west London plus a bit of the county of Surrey. This area hasn’t the blues pedigree of a Mississippi or Texas, but for electric blues guitar influencers, I’d guess it’s unbeatable.
Three of the world’s most famous and copied blues and rock electric guitarists were born here, just 12 miles apart and one year apart. They are:
Eric Clapton, born Ripley, Surrey, 1945.
For years the most revered electric blues guitarist in the world, Eric Clapton played with the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie and Derek and the Dominos before going solo. Eric is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s only three-time inductee, once as a solo artist and with with The Yardbirds and Cream. “Clapton Is God” people used to paint on London’s walls in the days before cans of spray paint. Cream were the first UK band to take heavy blues rock to America in 1967. Their third album ‘Wheels of Fire’ was the world’s first platinum-selling double album. Eric Clapton has 18 Grammy Awards and sold over 100 million records.
Jimmy Page, born Heston, SW London, 1944.
Once of The Yardbirds alongside Jeff Beck, London’s 1960s session-guitarist-supreme, Jimmy Page played with the Kinks and Who and on a host of massive hits including Marianne Faithfull’s ‘As Tears Go By’ and Them’s “Baby Please Don’t Go’. Then, Jimmy founded Led Zeppelin, one of the biggest-selling bands of all time and the third British band to take heavy blues rock to the USA in December 1969. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Page number three in their list of their ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of all Time, behind Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, with The Yardbirds and with Led Zeppelin.
Jeff Beck, born Wallington, Surrey, 1944.
Ranked number five on Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of all Time’ list, and with six Grammy Awards, Jeff Beck has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, with The Yardbirds and individually. His band, the Jeff Beck Group, which included Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, was the second British band to take heavy blues rock to the USA in 1968 after Cream. Appearing on Rolling Stone’s cover three times, Beck is a long-time friend of Jimmy Page and often described as “the guitarists’ guitarist”.
As Jeff Beck told Guitar World in 1995:
“It’s peculiar when you talk about The Yardbirds and me, Jimmy and Eric. We’re all from the same country and all within about a 12-mile distance. That’s extraordinary. I really don’t know what it was.
“Maybe that part of the planet has some kind of energetic vibe about it. Or maybe it was something to do with the education system that drove us to leave school and listen to rock ‘n’ roll. The Yardbirds were the focal point of it. Without that band, things might have been very different for me.”
Why not check the video below if you’re interested in checking out The Yardbirds.
The Clue Explained: The car is an Allard, British and from the 1940s. Just like our three influential electric blues rock guitarists.