A look into the crucial new blues anthology curated by the Rolling Stones
If there’s any band in the world who has the blues to thank for their overwhelming success, it’s The Rolling Stones. And if there’s any band more qualified to curate a record of the blues masterpieces of the last century, I’ve yet to find them.
The Rolling Stones — the most enduring and, arguably, most legendary rock band of all time — and the blues are so intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. It’s an unbroken circle, going ‘round and ‘round, for over 55 years: the blues transfixed a young Keith and Mick, who went on to create blues-flavored rock ’n roll to transfix the masses, who then discover the masters of the blues who inspired The Stones. “If you don’t know the blues…there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll, or any other form of popular music,” Keith Richards stated. Now, with the release of Confessin’ the Blues, The Rolling Stones–in partnership with BMG–are doing their part to not only ensure the education of a new generation of music lovers, but honor the legacy of the great bluesmen who inspired them.
An all-encompassing study of the genre, the collection features the work of legends like Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, and — of course — Muddy Waters. “The first Muddy Waters album that was really popular was Muddy Waters at Newport,” Mick Jagger said on the liners. “[That was] the first album I ever bought.”
And while they owe the band’s name to Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood goes on to explain more about their group’s deep connection to the incomparable icon of the blues. “That’s how Mick and Keith first got close as well, on the train coming back from college,” he said. “They noticed each other’s record and collection, and it was, ‘Hey, you’ve got Muddy Waters. You must be a good guy. Let’s form a band.’”
The influence of the blues is heard through The Rolling Stones’ catalogue, in Mick’s unmistakable vocals, Keith’s guitar licks, and their gritty, grooving, sensual, parent-infuriating lyrics. Confessin’ the Blues takes listeners back to a time before rock n’ roll existed, when the electrified blues were being played in honky-tonks dotted across the Delta. But the visceral howl of the blues — and the undeniably intoxicating rhythms and melodies expressed through the fingers of the masters — couldn’t be contained for long; it rode the rails north, immigrating to Chicago, to New Orleans, to New York, and, years later, to England.
Blues music had been popular in England since World War II, but it wasn’t until the mid-50s, when British record labels HMV, EMI and Decca, began distributing American blues records to the skiffle-crazed British teens that the blues began to smolder and spark. Three years later, though, in 1958, Muddy Waters and his electrified blues were the barrel of gasoline poured over the coals; there was no containing the subsequent blaze, or the legendary musicians — The Beatles The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, John Mayall— who were caught up in the inferno.
The enduring irony, however, is that the blues — perhaps one of the earliest forms of American music — had to cross the ocean, obsess four British teenagers to the point that they had to start a band to perform their own versions, and then cross the ocean again, following The Beatles’ international success and the British Invasion, to break through to mainstream media. Maybe that’s why The Rolling Stones are such champions of the blues: they recognize that the creators of the music weren’t given the credit they deserved for far too long.
But with Confessin’ the Blues, The Rolling Stones are going above and beyond championing the music; they’ve partnered with Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, donating 10% of BMG’s net receipts from sales to the organization. Confessin’ the Blues is more than a compilation record of the greatest hits; it’s a musical education from the ones who know the genre best.
Featuring artwork by Ronnie Wood and 42 ground-shaking tracks, Confessin’ the Blues is available as a 5 x 10” vinyl book-pack mimicking the original 78 rpm releases, a 2-CD set, and a double-disc vinyl set, with liner notes by music journalist Colin Larkin and removable art cards by noted blues illustrator Christoph Mueller. Click here for more information, or here to purchase Confessin’ the Blues.