Guitarist Todd Rundgren – the former Nazz and Utopia frontman – recently unleashed Todd Rundgren’s Johnson, an album featuring rocking interpretations of 12 iconic tunes by Robert Johnson, the legendary Delta bluesman.
The album also serves as a tribute to big-ticket 1960s guitarists – from England and the United States – who were inspired by Johnson’s music, including Eric Clapton and Michael Bloomfield. This can be heard in the album’s Cream-style arrangements and its crisp, overdriven tones reminiscent of the classic Bluesbreakers albums of the Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor eras.
So, as Rundgren breaks out his Strat and honors the giants of the genre, here’s a list – assembled by the man himself – of his top five blues albums – the ones that inspired him as a young Philadelphia-based blues player.
01. THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965). This is an American blues milestone for a number of reasons – not least of which is the intense soloing of one Chicago-born, Les Paul-wielding – and soon-to-be-big-haired – Michael Bloomfield.
02. HOODOO MAN BLUES, Junior Wells (1965). There’s something mesmerizing about the crisp, clear stereo mix of this genuine mid-’60s blues classic. Buddy Guy’s stripped-down “This is what a Strat sounds like, folks” tone doesn’t hurt, either.
03. BLUES BREAKERS WITH ERIC CLAPTON, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers (1966). “All heads snapped when the Blues Breakers album came out,” Rundgren says. “It was like an atom bomb for guitarists.” Be sure to check out Clapton’s burning solo on “Have You Heard” – and remember, he was only 21 at the time.
04. BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN, Albert King (1967). Need a catchy blues tune to cover for your next album – or even as your next single? Do what everyone else has done – from Cream to Clapton to Led Zeppelin – and grab one of these ditties.
05. STAND BACK! HERE COMES CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE’S SOUTH SIDE BAND, Charlie Musselwhite (1967). Musselwhite’s brilliant cover of Duke Pearson’s “Christo Redemptor” is only one of the highlights of this disc, which features Harvey Mandel on guitar. For a recent update of the tune, check out Ronnie Earl’s 2010 Spread the Love album.
Rundgren also put in a good word for three more albums: the Real Folk Blues discs by Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters.
To read more about Todd Rundgren’s Johnson, check out the August issue of Guitar World magazine.