Artscape
9:00 am
Sun June 26, 2011

Five reasons why Memphis should get props for the blues

Memphis, Tenn., is known as the birthplace of rock 'n roll. But KPLU's Nick Morrison says it should also be known for the blues.

Nick gives five examples of how Memphis and its neighbor, West Memphis, Ark., rank right up there with the Mississippi Delta and Chicago when it comes to launching the careers of influential blues artists.

I always learn a lot when Nick and I talk about the blues. There is so much history and so much good music.

A tale of two cities and two radio stations

This time around, I learned that there are two radio stations where many blues legends got their starts. One is KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas. That's where Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II had radio shows.

Nick says B.B. King got his first exposure to a broad public on Sonny Boy Williamson's show on KWEM. He later went to have his own show on the Memphis station WDIA (and that's where Riley B. King became B.B. King).

Five songs that highlight Memphis blues

Below are five songs that Nick chose to highlight the impact Memphis and West Memphis had on the blues. My two favorites on the list are from Sonny Boy Williamson and B.B. King.

Williamson's "Mighty Long Time" is very sparse (a sorrowful voice, harmonica and bass played by mouth), but it's very powerful. It evoked some strong emotions in me – see what it does for you. And, you'll be amazed by the high-pitched voice of a young B.B. King in "Crying Won't Help You."

Enjoy!

  • Cannon's Jug Stompers – Album: Complete Works, 1927-1930. Song: Prison Wall Blues
  • Sleepy John Estes – Album: I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More 1929-1941. Song: Milk Cow Blues
  • Sonny Boy Williamson II – Album: King Biscuit Time. Song: Mighty Long Time
  • Howlin' Wolf – Album: Memphis Days: Definitive Edition, Vol. 1. Song: How Many More Years
  • B.B. King – Album: Original Greatest Hits. Song: Crying Won't Help You

For links to the music and history of the artists, go to Nick’s blog post on A Blog Supreme/NPR Jazz.

If you love the blues, be sure to check out the All Blues show with your host John Kessler every Saturday and Sunday night from 6 p.m. to midnight on 88.5 KPLU - and streaming live at kplu.org.