When I first started playing the guitar I became obsessed with the blues. One reason was that as an aspiring guitar player I wanted to emulate the greats blues guitar players. I also starting to get bored with the music on top-40 radio stations. I wanted something interesting and blues fit that want perfectly. Then I went to college and discovered indie radio. That was that a eye-opener, but even after finding great new music I still found myself listen to great old music.
There are lots of blues guys to really go crazy about, but one that I’ve always loved is Huddie Ledbetter, aka “Lead Belly” (or “Leadbelly” if you want to go by what record companies say). One reason I love Lead Belly is that he was one of the first blues musicians I heard. There was also Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bukka White, and Howlin’ Wolf.
The origin of Lead Belly’s name has become myth, some say it is a play on his name referring to his physical toughness, or possibly even from surviving a buckshot in the stomach. Most likely he got the name while in jail— he was in sentenced to 35 years of prison twice, once for murder and once for attempted murder. Amazingly he was pardoned both times and barely served any time at all. Both pardons were won through Lead Belly’s musical abilities. Lead Belly’s music is gritty, soulful, and intelligent. A lot of his songs weren’t original but everything that he sang so clearly belonged to him in an intense and honest way. Below is a song I’ve taken from The Internet Archive; like so many of his recordings it is rough, which is a mixed blessing because the cracks and pops offer their own nice aesthetic, but they also obscure an amazing musician (I don’t mind it).