Five songs that give the blues a modern-day makeover

Time to feature another great conversation between KPLU’s Morning Edition Host Kirsten Kendrick and producer Nick Morrison. Today they take a look at blues musicians putting a modern day twist to their recordings.


Mississippi blues master R.L. Burnside matches up with rapper Lyrics Born for a new take on the genre, a melding of modern and classic styles. zzazazz / Flickr


I’ll admit I wasn’t a big fan of the blues before I started working here at KPLU. I didn’t know much about the music. But that changed when I started listening to the blues songs we play. I discovered I really like the blues and the bare-bones, gritty nature of it. So, why mess that up with a fancy remix, right? Wrong.

There is a new trend of techno-blues out there and I have to say I am fascinated by it. I hope you will be too.

I learned about blues musicians delving into the world of remixing and sampling from KPLU’s Nick Morrison. He and I do occasional interviews about music and the blues is Nick’s favorite kind of music. He’s enjoyed seeing it evolve from acoustic blues, to electric blues, to rock blues.

He was particularly interested in finding out how the newest studio technology has impacted the blues. It’s the topic of the latest monthly list Nick wrote for NPR’s music website.

1. Little Axe – Ride On – The Wolf That House Built


Little Axe is the brainchild of singer-guitarist Skip MacDonald and producer Adrian Sherwood. MacDonald was part of the original studio rhythm section for Sugarhill Records, and can be heard on early rap recordings by the likes of Grandmaster Flash and The Sugarhill Gang. Little Axe created a template for reimagining and remixing the blues. “Ride On” features samples of Leadbelly’s “Ride On” from his Library of Congress recordings and also weaves in some Howlin’ Wolf.

2. R.L. Burnside (featuring Lyrics Born) – Someday Baby – A Bothered Mind


“Someday Baby” has been recorded several times since it was first laid down by Sleepy John Estes in 1935. In this version, Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside enlists the services of rapper Lyrics Born to turn this classic blues into an exercise in call-and-response between yesterday and today.

3. Tangle Eye – Work Song – Alan Lomax’s Southern Journey Remixed


Scott Billington and Steve Reynolds are musicians and producers who collaborate as Tangle Eye. They had the delightful idea of adding instrumentation, rhythm tracks and samples to some of the a cappella field recordings made by folklorist Alan Lomax in the 1940s and ‘50s. “Work Song” is their remix of a song called “Rosie” (hear the song) sung by a prison work gang led by a man named C.B. “88” Cook.

4. Slo Leak – Drunk – When the Clock Strikes 12


Slo Leak is guitarist, producer and vocalist Danny Kortchmar and guitarist-vocalist Charlie Karp. Kortchmar spent years in the L.A. rock scene, where he worked with artists such as Jackson Browne and Carole King, but he evidently always had one foot in the blues. Since the late 1990s, Slo Leak has been successfully applying modern studio techniques to blues and R&B. “Drunk” was originally performed by Joe Liggins and The Honeydrippers, a popular jump-blues band in the 1940s and ‘50s. Kortchmar and Karp sample some of that original recording and drag a few other surprises into the performance.

5. Euphoria – Back Against the Wall – Precious Time


This takes elements of the blues all the way into the world of electronica, as performed by the group Euphoria. The sound of Ken Ramm’s slide guitar and Howard Levy’s harmonica evolved out of a long blues tradition. Grafting those sounds onto a dance beat is an experiment, just as it was an experiment the first time a blues guitarist slid the neck of a broken bottle up the fretboard of an acoustic guitar, just to see what it would sound like.

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