Rough Guide To Gospel Blues LP


Although the blues and gospel music of the African American in the pre-war era seem quite distinct, they were essentially two sides of the same coin. Both genres shared the same longing for a better life and an almost blind hope in deliverance and redemption. The musical influence of the church was profound on many blues singers, as this was often where they started out. Many early bluesmen would freely switch between playing blues and gospel and it was not uncommon for artists to go back and forth between careers as preachers and blues performers.

Ultimately famed for his ‘devil's music', Blind Lemon Jefferson's version of "All I Want Is That Pure Religion" was one of two recordings from his first session in 1926 which were gospel songs, released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. Later that year Blind Joe Taggart and Edward W. Clayborn were the first genuine guitar evangelists to record. Clayborn only performed gospel tunes but Taggart also recorded secular music under a number of different pseudonyms. The success of these early recordings led to other singer-guitarists being sought out and recorded.

Like the itinerant bluesmen, the guitar evangelists had to ply their trade on street corners and anywhere that would allow them to scrape a meager living together. One such artist was Blind Willie Johnson who, although a devout Christian performing only religious material, became a seminal figure in the history of the blues. From the dazzling slide guitar playing and earthy, pained vocals on Johnson's extraordinary recordings one can draw an obvious musical comparison with the blues. It is, however, the shared subject matter of human struggle that connects the blues and gospel which resonates at the deepest level. After Johnson's initial recordings sold very well, many star bluesmen of the time such as Barbecue Bob followed suit with versions of Negro spirituals, often credited under pseudonyms in order not to offend the church.

Undoubtedly, the most technically adept of the true guitar evangelists was Reverend Gary Davis, whose incredible ragtime-infused style has been a huge inspiration to guitar fingerpickers ever since. Davis was an important inspiration to the folk music revival alongside other featured bluesmen such as Skip James (who was later ordained as a minister) and Bukka White, each of whom had recorded a small number of spirituals and were given a new lease of life in the 1960s. Josh White was another and here he teams up with Blind Joe Taggart. The pointed "Scandalous And A Shame" was his first popular Paramount recording.

It has been said that the ‘Queen Of Country Blues' Memphis Minnie only once went to church to see a gospel group perform, but you wouldn't know this when hearing her take on "Let Me Ride: which evokes the mood and fervor of Southern black worship. Likewise, many of Bessie Smith's classic blues songs have a hymn-like quality as a result of the fusion of the sacred and the secular in her delivery. Her beautiful version of "On Revival Day" undoubtedly reflects the dynamics she would have heard in the sacred songs in her childhood church. Less is known about Mother McCollum whose stompin' masterpiece "Jesus Is My Air-O-plane' displays her wonderful guitar-playing and soulful vocals.

Like McCollum, little is known about several of the other featured artists that straddled the line between the Lord's song and that of the blues, but all of these classic recordings illustrate how the line separating them was very, very thin. This LP includes an accompanying download card giving you high quality MP3 versions of all the tracks from this record, as well as bonus Gospel Blues tracks.


  1. Reverend Gary Davis - I Am The Light (1935)
  2. Blind Willie Johnson - I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole (1927)
  3. Bukka White - The Promise True And Grand (1930)
  4. Rev. Edward W. Clayborn - Your Enemy Cannot Harm You (1926)
  5. Blind Joe Taggart & Josh White - Scandalous And A Shame (1928)
  6. Mother McCollum Jesus - Is My Air-O-Plane (1930)
  7. Blind Willie & Kate McTell - I Got Religion, I'm So Glad (1935)
  8. Skip James - Be Ready When He Comes (1931)
  9. Memphis Minnie - Let Me Ride (1935)
  10. Barbecue Bob - When The Saints Go Marching In (1927)
  11. Bessie Smith - On Revival Day (1930)
  12. Blind Lemon Jefferson - All I Want Is That Pure Religion (1926)