Tampa Red was a slide guitar pioneer who helped create the template for modern blues. His distinctive use of single-string slide melodies in the 1920’s would go on to influence virtually every slide player who followed him, including Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters.
In the days before amplification, he played a steel-bodied resonator guitar, the loudest and showiest guitar available. And he was one of the early adopters of the electric guitar, making the switch in the 1940’s.
In addition to his own career, he was an active collaborator, and can be found playing on records with Memphis Minnie, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson and Big Maceo. As a songwriter, too, he left his mark with compositions that became standards, such as “It Hurts Me Too” and “Love With a Feeling”. Tampa Red was playing electric slide guitar when he recorded “Poor Stranger Blues” in 1946.
While Tampa Red was the slide guitar star of early blues, Elmore James was surely his successor, almost universally hailed as the most influential slide guitarist of his day. His searing, distorted guitar and impassioned vocals conveyed an unparalleled sense of urgency and emotion. He composed many standards of the blues (“The Sky is Crying”, “Cry For Me Baby”) and gave life to many earlier blues songs such as “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “One Way Out”.
Elmore James was a follower of Tampa Red—he recorded several of Tampa’s songs, and even inherited two musicians who played with Tampa Red, pianist Little Johnny Jones and drummer Odie Payne. He recorded “Stranger Blues” in 1962.
Matt Schofield is a young British guitarist who has accomplished a lot in his 35 years. As a player, he is compared favorably to Robben Ford, for his fluid style that hints at tonalities beyond blues. As a producer, he has made 3 acclaimed albums with singer Ian Siegal, Meat and Potatoes, Swagger and Broadside. Schofield recorded “Stranger Blues” on his 2009 album Heads, Tails and Aces.
He performs the song live in this video clip:
Here are the complete versions of “Stranger Blues” tracked through time: