Blues Brief - March 2nd
“The line I shoot, Will never miss”
The Chess Brothers had recorded great blues. They previously had hits with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimmy Rogers. They marketed great innovations like Ike Turner’s ‘Rocket 88’, recorded by Sam Phillips in Memphis. But when a mechanic walked off the streets of Chicago into their new studio for Chess subsidiary Checker Records, they had their own revolution. The talented gospel singer had played trombone and violin for his church in Chicago. As a teenager he started playing guitar, inspired by the sound of John Lee Hooker. He worked of course, but also played on the South Side streets and eventually club gigs. Somehow he was able to fuse gospel, blues, and the rhythm and blues of another major influence-Louis Jordan. He brought all of that with his band to the Chess brothers’ studio. The group included an established harmonica player in Billy Boy Arnold. They had come up with a sound all their own, drawing from ancient rhythms and their own experience.
As if that were not enough, they also had put together what would become a blues classic, with perhaps an even more famous derivation (or remake) ‘Mannish Boy’ made just months later by Chess hit maker Muddy Waters. You could call it a tight musical circle - a songwriter influenced by Waters ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ written by Willie Dixon, who played bass on the soon-to-be classic for this young man.
Both sides of that record became instant hits and classics. The blues song was heard by a bunch of young English boys who later gave it back to us when they formed bands you may have heard of - The Yardbirds and The Who - and those who were influenced by Chicago blues in general - The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, The Animals, and so many others. Dozens of rock and blues bands have recorded it. The “A’ side had that sound-that unmistakable beat-featured in blues, rock, punk, reggae, and new wave originals and remakes. You know it from Buddy Holly, Johnny Otis, The Strangeloves, The Who, Bowie, Springsteen, The Clash, Thomas Dolby, and U2. It was the signature song that got the singer and guitarist banned from The Ed Sullivan Show for playing it in November 1955 when the host wanted to hear his version of ’16 Tons’.
That street musician was none other than Ellas McDaniel, who on this day in 1955 recorded two legendary songs, ‘I’m a Man’ and his signature song - the one renamed by the Chess brothers for what had become McDaniel's stage name - the beat, the song, the man - Bo Diddley!