Blues came as a result of the fusion of American and African music, thus creating an interesting hybrid of soft melodies and strong, meaningful music. Primarily blues music has been associated with wind and string instruments such as the guitar and saxophones. But let’s not forget the fair share of piano players who performed outstanding blues music. As one of the top three instruments in the jazz music scene, one can see just how versatile the piano is in allowing emotions and chords to take flight.
Many artists have come and gone, leaving lasting impressions on both the fans and the industry. This article seeks to honor five of those really good piano players in the history of blues. Though in no particular order, this list can be taken as a group of recommendations which students of piano should check out if they want to get into blues music.
Otis Spann. He enjoys the prestige of being one of the best Chicago-based blues piano players of the post war period. Otis first started out with Muddy Waters before finally launching his solo career. Other than his solo and band work, Spann also participated in sessions with fellow blues artists Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley. Otis was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the early 1980s.
Little Brother Montgomery. His real name was Eurreal Wilford Montgomery but many call him by his well-known nickname, ‘Little Brother’. This nickname came from a previously-held nickname of ‘Little Brother Harper’ from his uncanny likeness to his father, Harper Montgomery. A self-taught jazz blues pianist, Little Brother was known for his very unique style of playing the piano. He learned routines by ear and would be able to execute them perfectly then after. This was because he hadn’t formally learned music (reading notes and the like). Other than playing the piano, he was also a singer. Little Brother Montgomery founded FM records and continued to play and perform at blues festivals whenever possible until he passed away.
Sunnyland Slim. Another well-known blues pianist went by the nickname of Sunnyland Slim. Born as Albert Luandrew but forever remembered by fans of the blues till this very day as one of the more influential players . Chicago Blues Festival performs tributes to remember the man for his contributions and achievements. Sunnyland Slim was known for his distinct style of performance on the vocals and piano which were characterized by heavy basses and a declamatory kick to his performances.
Corky Siegel. Unlike the previous three, Corky happens to be a living legend. He is still alive and well to this very day. He was born as Mark Paul Siegel and is a multi-talented musician: he writes and sings his own songs. He also plays the harmonica in addition to the piano. What makes Corky stand out from everyone else is how he fuses the blues with the classics.
Henry Townsend. Last but not the least is the recently departed Henry ‘Mule’ Townsend. He was called Mule owing to his sturdy physique. He died hours after he had the merit of being the first to receive the key of Grafton (Wisconsin) at the Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame. He lived a long, contented life and died at the age of 96. Mule continued to perform and record for decades up until he died. He played more than one instrument; including the guitar, and provided vocals. He was known for his talent for words as well and said to have been part of many interviews, even contributing to the writing of many works on the topic of the Blues.