Here’s a perfect example of a song that changed with the times, and was at the cutting edge of those changes.
Drummer and singer Rabon Tarrant recorded “Blues With a Feeling” in 1947, a time when big band swing music was in transition to rock and roll. This version straddles both genres with the beat of rock and roll, but the more jazzy instrumentation of piano, sax and trumpet.
Just a few years later, in 1953, Little Walter’s recording of the song is bristling with electricity-literally.
One of the things that made “Chicago Blues” was the changing technology of the day, and that meant electric guitars. And in Little Walter’s case, electrified harmonica. When people talk about Little Walter, they usually talk about his sound, because he made a harmonica sound like nothing that had been heard before – somewhere between a saxophone and an electric guitar.
Here is a brief film about Little Walter, which was shown as part of his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008:
Paul Butterfield was one of the first white harmonica players (and musicians) to be considered a blues great. He did not just imitate other blues players, he developed his own style and was a big part of the popularity of Chicago blues of the 1960s. His 1965 recording also features Elvin Bishop and Michael Bloomfield on electric guitar.
Here’s a fairly bizarre clip of Paul Butterfield appearing as a guest on the TV show “To Tell The Truth”, circa 1966:
Canadian harp virtuoso Carlos Del Junco says the first record he ever bought was the 1965 Paul Butterfield album that contained “Blues With a Feeling.”
While his style is heavily influenced by Butterfield, Del Junco brings a more jazzy sense of possibility to his harmonica playing. His 2005 recording of the song is angular and full of rhythmic surprises – and wizardly harmonica playing.
Here’s a short clip of Carlos talking about his harmonica technique:
Here are the full versions of “Blues With a Feeling” tracked through time:
“The Blues Time Machine” is a weekly feature tracking one great blues song through time. The series is hosted by John Kessler, from KPLU’s “All Blues,” and is published here every Friday and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Fridays at 12:10 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.