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Record Store Day Triple Vinyl Treat: Chicago/The Blues/Today!

Mark Smotroff digs into a deep dive on ‘60s electric blues…

I’ve long known about (and been a fan of) the Harry Smith Anthology Of Folk Music from the early 1950s which is highly regarded as a major influence on thousands of musicians in the 1960s. Much of the music in that fabulous set was connective tissue pulling together musicians who emerged in the psychedelic movement — from The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver to  Janis Joplin and many others.

What I somehow missed was that in 1966 Vanguard Records put out a kind of equivalent series of albums covering the Chicago electric blues scene, called Chicago/The Blues/Today! The original album series of three individual LPs have become sought after collectors items commanding significant dollars on websites like Discogs and Popsike. For Record Store Day, these individual albums have been neatly compiled into a handy triple-gatefold package.

The set was curated by musician, author, historian and producer Samuel Charters who brought numerous notable Midwestern blues artists together to record short sets showcasing the then-modern electric Chicago blues sound. The result was a batch of sizzling recordings including by Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Homesick James, Walter Horton, Otis Spann, Jimmy (aka James) Cotton and Willie Dixon. 

The album may have helped turn late-1960s and ‘70s stars onto these sounds but more importantly it likely helped bring some much needed notoriety to established American blues musicians who were being overshadowed by rising stars. 

Certainly, the British blues movement was already afoot by that time this album was released. The Rolling Stones recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago in 1964 and 1965 and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were already making waves with its shining star Eric Clapton that year as well.  The Lovin’ Spoonful was exploring its electrified jug-band folk-blues-rock out of New York and by 1965 The Butterfield Blues Band was already making waves with their first release on Elektra Records. 

So it is great that Vanguard issued this set bringing much deserved attention the music and these musicians. This is kind of an audio encyclopedia of blues form including now-classics such as “It Hurts Me Too,” “All Night Long,” “Rocket 88,” “Dust My Broom,” “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and many others. I’m still wrapping my head around all this music so no deep favorites have emerged although I really liked Otis Rush’s “Everything Going To Turn Out Alright” which feels pretty much like an instrumental version of “I Think Its Gonna Work Out Fine” (the first Grammy nominated hit by Ike & Tina Turner, later covered by Bruce Springsteen in concert in the 1970s)

This new edition features all-analog mastering from the original stereo tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, pressed on 180-gram black vinyl at MPO in Europe. The sound is terrific and the pressings are well centered and quiet.  The album includes the original album liner notes and cover designs of the original issue — each inner sleeve is effectively a reproduction of the original LP cover — and there is an updated essay from the 1999 CD edition. 

All in all, I really like Chicago/The Blues/Today!  If you missed it on Record Store Day, do try to pick up a copy as its a great addition to any basic blues collection.

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