Craft Recordings proudly announces an audiophile-quality 180-gram vinyl reissue of Chicago/The Blues/Today! Vol. 1, the first installment of the seminal 1966 blues trilogy. Featuring recordings by some of the era’s most exciting artists—including Junior Wells, J. B. Hutto, and Otis Spann, this disc (and the following two volumes) would have a far-reaching influence on modern music. Set for release on June 17 and available for pre-order today, this special reissue leaves no detail untouched. Pressed at France’s MPO, the LP features all-analog mastering from the original stereo tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and is presented in a tip-on jacket, showcasing the album’s iconic, original artwork. An exclusive Mid-Century Olive color pressing is also available via CraftRecordings.com (limited to 300 worldwide), alongside official Vanguard Records merchandise.
This breakout pressing follows Craft’s 2021 Record Store Day-exclusive box set release of the complete trilogy, which debuted the freshly remastered audio and was described by Classic Rock magazine as an “exquisite vinyl upgrade for a crucial collection.” Meanwhile, Part-Time Audiophile proclaimed, “A day spent enjoying Chicago/The Blues/Today! will re-alter your DNA, recharge your heart and soul, keep your butt dancing and your senses filled, swinging to its electric, bluesy brew.” And The Vinyl District noted “...this set exemplifies the sound of the Chicago blues in the 1960s. It still delivers an astonishing kick.”
While the style of Chicago blues—distinguished by the use of electrified guitars, amplified harmonicas, a high-energy rhythm section, and the occasional dose of distortion—emerged in the years following WWII, its origins began decades earlier, when Delta blues musicians left the segregated South for cities across the Midwest. In Chicago’s South Side, legendary bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Big Bill Broonzy, and Willie Dixon pioneered the thrilling new sound. By the early ’60s, a new generation of artists, including Junior Wells, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy, were at the forefront of its evolution.
Samuel Charters, the producer and scholar behind Chicago/The Blues/Today!, sought to document this vibrant musical scene. As an A&R man, he had long been enchanted by Chicago’s blues artists but struggled to secure a label that would sign the talented musicians. Finally, in 1965, Charters found a partner in Vanguard Records, one of the great purveyors of folk, jazz, classical, and blues music.
In the album’s original liner notes, Charters explained his fascination with the scene. “In the clubs and taverns of…Chicago a small group of blues men are creating some of the most exciting and vital music to be heard in America today. They have combined the lyricism and the introspection of the country blues with a rhythmic drive and emotionalism that reflects the difficulties and tensions of their city life.” He continued, “The South Side is the last place left in the country where a living music is still played in local bars and neighborhood clubs. It’s what New Orleans used to be like in the ’30s, what Memphis was like in the ’20s. In Chicago, on the South Side, it’s still today for the blues.”
In order to paint a broad and vivid musical portrait, Charters chose to record a sampler that highlighted an assortment of acts. Many of these sessions, which took place in an old RCA studio, were impromptu. Artists would sit in on each other’s performances, while the occasional legend stopped by for a guest appearance.
The first volume opens with a five-song set by 31-year-old harmonica virtuoso and singer, Junior Wells, and his Chicago Blues Band. Joined by his frequent collaborator, guitarist Buddy Guy, Wells delivers a raw and emotional performance—paying tribute to his recently-departed teacher, Sonny Boy Williamson, with a cover of the artist’s popular track, “Help Me.” He also performs his signature hit, “Messin’ with the Kid,” his Vietnam War-era ballad, “Vietcong Blues,” and a fiery rendition of the standard, “It Hurts Me Too.” Featured on the next five tracks is J. B. Hutto and His Hawks. A protégé of Elmore James, the 35-year-old guitarist plays with “a fierce insistence,” as Charters describes it. Deftly bending notes with a metal slide, Hutto pours himself into his set, which includes a searing cover of “Married Woman Blues” and originals like “Too Much Alcohol” and “That’s the Truth.”
Closing out the album is 33-year-old Otis Spann, who Charters declares to be “one of the greatest blues piano men who ever lived.” Spann, who also served as Muddy Waters’ pianist, shows off his chops in upbeat originals like “Spann’s Stomp,” and “Marie.” He also performs the instrumental “S.P. Blues,” and slows the pace with “Sometime I Wonder” and the languid “Burning Fire.”
While Charters intended to showcase Chicago’s thriving blues scene through his recordings, he never could have imagined the far-reaching impact that Chicago/The Blues/Today! would have on the music industry. Released in 1966 as a trilogy, the album resonated with listeners on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans, journalists, and musicians flocked to the city’s South Side to experience the thriving scene in person, while an older generation of blues stars enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, leading to tours, appearances at major festivals, and increased record sales. For many of these Black artists, the increased visibility was empowering, allowing them to sign fairer recording contacts and, in some cases, regain control of their recordings and royalties.
Chicago/The Blues/Today! also had a profound effect on popular music, influencing many the era’s rising rock stars, including the Animals, Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, and, later, the Allman Brothers Band. As AllMusic notes, “It’s fair to assume that most blues-influenced artists had all three volumes in their respective collections, and the songs on them ended up in the repertoires of everyone from Jimi Hendrix…to Led Zeppelin…to Steppenwolf.” Perhaps most importantly, however, Chicago/The Blues/Today! reminded audiences that blues music was very much a living, breathing, and evolving art—one that deserved to be celebrated, equally, as an integral part of American culture.