Blues Songs by Artists Who Are Not Primarily Blues Singers

Now, the aficionados will say, Well, yeah, I knew there was some blues in the palette of these artists. But note, I used the word primarily. I don’t think the first word that comes to mind for any of these people is blues.

What got me thinking about this is hearing Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” on the radio and saying, Shit, that’s just a blues. Which is why Johnny Winter covered it of course. And then I saw Dylan a short while back and noted how bluesy his current band sounded.

So let’s kick this off with a tune from Zimmerman’s most recent (annus horribilus 2020) album Rough and Rowdy Ways. It is a straight-up blues shuffle and invokes one of the great early blues artists.

Here’s “Goodbye Jimmy Reed”:

One of my favorite – if relatively unknown – bands is Roomful of Blues who I must have seen about 10 times over 30+ years by now. A few years ago, Pat Benatar found out about them and recorded an album with them called True Love. My guess is that her husband Neil Giraldo had some impact on this as he’s a guitarist and noted blues lover.

This is B.B. King’s “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss.”* The whole thing sounds terrific and if you don’t know Roomful, you’ve missed something.

You’ve doubtless heard of the Kinks, yes? British Invasion. Pop band. Hard rock band. Blues band? How about “Gallon of Gas?” Love the harmonies and brother Dave’s bluesy playing;

Now Johnny Cash was, in his own dark, moody way, a pretty bluesy guy. “Folsom Prison Blues” comes out sounding more countryish when he plays it but it still follows the classic blues chord progression.

How can I avoid this one when it has the single greatest line ever written?

“I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die

Plus, Glen Campbell to boot;

Elvis? Did Elvis love the blues and sing it like a MOFO? Damn straight. Here he is doing “Reconsider Baby.”

Now you KNOW that Tina Turner can sing just about anything. She could sing the phone book and you’d probably say, “Tina, are you aware you’re singing the phone book?”

But I digress. Check out this video of Tina and the ladies doing “Undercover Agent for the Blues.” She even thoughtfully TELLS you it’s a blues. Smokin’! (Guys, both hands on the computer please.)

A while back fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead introduced me to a tune by Tom Jones called “Burning Hell.” Man, I said. one day I’m using that. That day is now:

I’m goin’ down to the churchhouse
Get down
On my bended

*I always tell my wife I’m paying the cost to be the boss whenever I pay bills but I’m not really the boss of anything and we both contribute. It’s just a fun thing to say and gives her one more occasion to roll her eyes, sigh and wish she’d married a doctor.

24 thoughts on “Blues Songs by Artists Who Are Not Primarily Blues Singers

  1. Great post (and I haven’t even been able to listen to all the songs yet…work prevails). A bit of a diversion from the post concept but reminded me of something. You being a ToddR fan are probably familiar, but just in case – his ‘Todd Rundgren’s Johnson’ album (as in Robert Johnson) is a kick-ass thing start to finish. Seems like it might have been one of those “contractual obligation” projects but that could be a false memory. At any rate, it’s Todd doing his British Blues take on all the RJ tunes for a great collection of smoking 3-minute songs – each and every one with a classic Todd guitar solo.


    1. I think you will dig the tunes. Good memory on Todd. That was a while back.

      I had no idea he could or did play the blues. Will check that out. Thanks!


    2. Hey, have you heard the live version of the Johnson album? Totally smokes and includes some other Rundgren songs. Up on Spotify.


      1. Just saw question above, sorry for confusion. I continue to have glitches with WordPress login and did not realize the comment posted anonymously. Also saw your follow-ups on my Todd “Johnson” comment, I continue to have some weird crossover thing happening juggling between Safari and Chrome and can’t tell what’s happening where. Apologies for all that. And yes, I have seen Todd’s live Johnson-plus show but had totally forgotten that fun things. Thanks for reminder, time for a rerun on that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. To be clear – above post was supposed to be a reply to your older question below…

                     Is this CB? Came in as Someone 

          I’ll get it straight eventually and quit causing trouble.


  2. Fun idea for a post. These are all great renditions!

    I’m not going to lie here. While I love a good number of Dylan songs, I have decidedly mixed feelings about others. As such, I wasn’t sure what to expect from “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” I really dig it, including “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.”

    The other song I’d like to comment on is the Tom Jones tune, which I hadn’t heard before. I’ve always thought he’s a great vocalist. But, damn, I didn’t see that one coming!


    1. Neither did I. All hail CB for that one. He posted it a while back and I always remembered it. You can also find a cool Jones/Jeff Beck collaboration on YouTube on “Goin’ Down Slow.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice mix Doc. I really liked that Bob cut when I first heard it and still like it. Nice turn by Elvis. He was a musical dude. Cash? As usual we are crossing musical paths. Just read his last biography (dont read many anymore). It was good with a lot of personal insight and his perspective on a lot of musicians. A very likable no bullshit man who was around a lot of beginnings in music not least of all Sun Records. That opening riff on ‘Burning Hell’ is just killer. John Lee would have dug the whole cut. Old Tom is another interesting guy. He cooks on that cut and album. Kinks? I love ya man.


    1. Heh! Two cuts on the list to draw CB out of retirement. I’d heard that Kinks tune once and knew it would wind up on some post somewhere. And when I went looking for Tom Jones tunes, that one popped up and I said, Wait a minute! I know that one. So I went back to your crib and confirmed it. See if you can dig up Jeff Beck and Tom Jones doing Goin’ Down Slow on YouTube.

      Elvis also did Merry Christmas Baby or something like that. Timely. That Cash book sounds interesting. And how about him with Glen Campbell? Glen was a serious picker.


      1. I forgot to mention Roomful Of Blues. We’ve talked about them before. Man they have been making music for a long time. I wonder how many originals are left in the band. Probably drift in nd out. Talk about old school. They’ learned their chops the old way. Playing live gigs.


        1. Since 1967 to be exact. Duke Robillard, who started the band, was here this summer but for some reason, we never got off our asses and went to see him. That’s a band we’ve seen with my blues-loving stepmother (83) and boy does see love them. Probably told you but she’s a terrific dancer and even at her age she (and her sister) would get up and jitterbug to their music.


        2. PS. No originals left. There was an old trombone player they called Porky or something. He was in the band for a long time but passed a while ago. According to Wikipedia they have had 48 members. This is the kind of big band music I prefer. Jump blues.


        3. Oh yeah. “Jump blues”. A friend of mine seen them back up Big Joe Turner’. The place was jumpin for sure.
          Now that is so cool about your stepmother. Yes you have told me but that stuff bears repeating. I knew an old doll who lived in Oakland and danced at the Ali Baba to swing music. Love those stories. Our buddy Ronnie Earl played with RFOB didnt he?


        4. Ronnie was part of the band from late 70s to mid-80s or so. He plays around here all the time but I haven’t seen him in ages. Tough way to make a living. The blues clubs out this way are now few and far between.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. Now you got me going on Ronnie Earl. I checked and he’s playing some of my favorite places in the next few months. He’s semi-retired and so, catch him now. Apparently had a bout of covid and diabetic to boot.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Your Ronnie E comments sent me searching the archives – unless I’m missing it, other than a reference in your RFOB post, there’s a void to fill in your future post calendar. Never been able to see Ronnie live, still hoping to make a pilgrimage to catch him someday. I’ve had sort of a random “pen pal” relationship with Ronnie – i.e.; many years ago I broke down and sent him what I prefer to call a note of appreciation (AKA fan letter but that sounds so cheesy). A few months layer he called out of the blue to say thanks and we had about a 15-minute chat, and then he surprised me with a care package of some signed CDs and other items. That write-and-call pattern has repeated itself a few time overs the years, always a pleasant surprise and what a true gentlemen. Glad to hear the health update.


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