I found one of the things that helped me the most in broadening my blues horizons was getting some good reference materials. I had heard of the same artists that every other outsider or new fan to the blues was aware of. I knew of Stevie Ray Vaughan and BB King of course. I had a few other names in my head too, such as Johnny Winter. In reality, I knew nothing. This was before the internet. This was before Second Life or a satellite radio that specialises in genres. If you wanted to find out about something then you had to earn it. The easiest and best way for me was reading.
There are lots of great blues magazines out there such as Living Blues or Blues Review. I find both of these great for helping me stay current and also they sometimes have great historic articles. As mentioned the internet and satellite radio are great sources of new sounds. However these can be scattered and uneven. Absolutely anyone can have their own soapbox on the web and pretend they know something about blues. Look at me. So you have to be careful what you take from those sources. I found the best way I could broaden my knowledge was by getting a guide to the blues. When I say guide I mean a guide to the best blues recordings not so much an overview of the artists although most of these guides do have a short bio of each performer.
There are many great guides out there. I have several myself. Some are large tomes such as “The Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings”. It has many entries for each artist and listings for a bunch of artitsts I have never heard. Or heard of for that matter. At over 900 pages it is exhaustive. It has tons of good information too. My main problems with it are twofold. One I have found that I don’t agree with their selections of the essential albums and the second being that I believe it short changes modern blues somewhat in favour of the old delta blues. Kind of like the white blues audiences of the 60′s who helped power a resurgence in the music but mainly the older blues as they considered acoustic Delta blues the only really genuine article. This has always annoyed me and I feel its presence here.
Another guide I have is called the “Down Home Guide To The Blues”. It is smaller in scope and has some great info and choices but my version is getting a little dated. It still talks about Albert Kind being alive. Another useful guide is the “All Music Guide” and it has a large footprint on the net too. However, it covers all forms of music and the blues section at only 102 pages does gloss over some very good music.
The object of this list is to point out great blues but also accessible music. This is not the stuff you need to acquire an ear to enjoy. For this reason my choice for item #4 in no particular order is Musichound’s “Blues: The Essential Album Guide”. I think the main reason I settled on this one is that I agreed with it’s choices more than the other books I mentioned. Its not exhaustive but has a good span of the important blues figures and also some of the lesser knowns. The reviews start with a short bio and then list “what to buy”, “what to buy next”, and “what to avoid”. I like this concise format. It also has great indexes and pinpoints other references too. Maybe the best part for new listeners is that it comes with a sampler cd as well.