Metal fans will usually say that it all started in Birmingham, England in 1970 with Black Sabbath’s first album. The truth is that the roots of heavy metal stretch back into the Mississippi Delta and Chicago; blues music then found its way into rock 'n roll, particularly through the music of 1960s artists like The Yardbirds, Cream and Led Zeppelin. No metal fan’s musical education is complete without exposure to the blues. Here are 10 albums that will hold an especially strong appeal for metal fans:
There’s a reason Robert Johnson
is called “King of the Delta Blues.” His guitar playing is perhaps the most imitated in American music, from blues to rock to metal. His playing has inspired anyone who has picked up a guitar and his licks surpass the best metal guitarists. Stories of Johnson's dalliances with the devil are legendary and one key song is "Hell Hound on My Trail." Johnson was widely rumored to be the player who sold his soul to the devil at the Crossroad to play. Tommy Johnson (no relation), another noted Delta bluesman, was actually the musician who claimed to make a backroads deal. If you think technical death metal bands can play, listen to Johnson.
James’ blues sounds are otherworldly and cannot be replicated, in particular his trademark track “Devil Got My Woman.” James was largely forgotten until his career was revived during the blues revivals of the 1960s. Skip James
was a truly enigmatic figure and even more intriguing than many metal musicians that try to cultivate an outsider image.
Long before Tony Iommi ever picked up a guitar, Muddy Waters was the king of the killer riff. Listen to classics like “Got My Mojo Workin’” and “Mannish Boy,” to hear a master at work.
was the Jimi Hendrix of harmonica playing. It was his idea to play the instrument amplified, opening an entirely new sound for post-War Chicago blues. His partying and drinking would put most metal musicians to shame; he eventually died after an alcohol-fueled bar fight. Metal fans will like that the lyrics of his blues frequently have a darker touch, for example “Boom Boom-Out Go The Lights,” which is about tracking down an unfaithful lover.
throaty, scratchy voice heralded a new approach to vocals long before death metal vocalists took “singing” to musical extreme. His songs were performed frequently by other artists, most notably by Jim Morrison and The Doors.
was the patriarch of the Delta blues sound and mentored musicians including Howlin’Wolf. Metal listeners will appreciate his unmistakably deep voice and his virtuoso guitar playing.
Metal fans are enamored with blast beats and intricate rhythms. But even the most skilled drummer would have a hard time keeping up with harmonica virtuoso Sonny Terry. Terry could coax more rhythm out of a harmonica than most bands could with a full drum set and a skilled bassist. Terry is best known for his collaborations with guitarist Brownie McGhee but his early unaccompanied work, including imitations of trains and fox chases, is full of rhythms more intricate than most extreme metal.
, Judas Priest
and even recent underground bands like The Gates of Slumber showcase the power of a riff but John Lee Hooker
did it first. Check out the minimalist playing on “Boom Boom.” It’s incredibly straightforward but earth shaking nonetheless.
Slayer and Metallica sometimes get criticized for continuing to play metal well into their 40s. Sonny Williamson’s
career didn’t even begin to peak until his 50s. Here, the wizened Mississippi bluesman and harp legend known as “The Goat” teaches a young generation of musicians like Eric Clapton how it’s done. Not his best pure performance, but an interesting historical document of the crossroads of blues, rock and eventually metal.
Blues purists would balk at the inclusion of this album, but it’s a must. The Rev. Fred Lane’s sociopathic take on life and romance is as diabolical (although more tongue in cheek) than Pig Destroyer
. Unfortunately, this recently went out of print and is increasingly difficult to find.