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Magic Sam's 10 Best Blues Albums
Magic Sam was born Samuel Gene Maghett on 14th February 1937 in Grenada, Mississippi. He was famed for his distinctive tremolo guitar playing and had taught himself to play by listening to the records of his heroes Muddy Waters and Little Walter. Magic Sam died tragically early on 1st December 1969 at the age of 32 from a heart attack.
Although his life was short he still was an immense influence on many blues musicians and has a back catalogue well worth exploring. This is my pick of the records that are available. It's a mixture of original CD's, Live recordings and a few essential compilations.
West Side Soul CD available on Amazon
1. West Side Soul
West Side Soul was Magic Sam's first full-length album recording and is often cited by blues enthusiasts as one of the greatest electric blues albums of all time. The 11 tracks plus one alternate take on the album are quite simply mesmeric. The guitar playing which was Magic Sams calling card is superb, melodic and frenzied at the same time and sometimes playing lead, rhythm, and bass simultaneously. His vocals are raw and come from the heart.
The album of course includes his interpretation of Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" which later infused the version made famous by the Blues Brothers.
Black Magic CD available on Amazon
2. Black Magic
Whilst not quite in the same league as "West Side Soul" (see number 1) Black Magic is still an absoultely exceptional album, the muscianship most of all by Magic Sam is high quality throughout and the record is very well produced showing a good understanding of the Blues and how it should be listened to.
All the songs are good and there is a re-recording of one of his 1950s singles "Keep Loving Me Baby" that shows how far he had come by this stage and also hints at how far he could have gone if he had not died so tragically young.
This album is your archetypal blues-soul album.
The Essential Magic Sam CD available on Amazon
3. The Essential Magic Sam: The Cobra and Chief Recordings 1957-1961
"The Essential Magic Sam" chronicles Magic Sam's earliest recordings for the Cobra, Crash and
Chief labels, and while this material has been available for a long
time, this disc probably has the best sound quality of any collection of
these songs as all the recordings have been lovingly remastered.
There is some energetic blues and some mind-boggling guitar playing and this compilation shows that at this early stage of his career, he was in his early 20's,he was still fine-tuning his art, Highlight of the piece would probably be "Every Night About This Time" which has space and depth.
4. Live at Ann Arbor & In Chicago
Live at Ann Arbor and In Chicago is a live recording of Magic Sam's breakthrough performance out of the world of obscure blues musicians and into the mainstream. Sam, backed by bassist Bruce Barlow and drummer Sam Lay, who was recruited in the wings just before the set, tore the place apart.
Highlights include "I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie)" and of course "Sweet Home Chicago" and the finale "Looking Good" makes you realise why the crowd didn't want it to end and carried on screaming for more.
Of course since this was recorded in the 1960s live at a concert the sound quality is not the best but the sheer quality of the musicianship and the sense of what it must have been like to be there more than overcome this.
Live at Ann Arbor CD available on Amazon
Rockin' Wild in Chicago CD available on Amazon
6. The Late Great Magic Sam
The Late Great Magic Sam album was originally a German only release from the 80's and features studio recordings from the early 60's along with some live recordings from late 1969 just before his death.
The quality of the recording of the early tracks is not quite up to today's standards but the quality of the guitar work is outstanding as you ould expect. Highlights would be "Torturing My Soul" or "Sometimes". This isn't only for completist by any stretch of the imagination it fills out the magic that is Magic Sam.
It should also be worth pointing out that this gets its title from the line in the Blues Brothers when Jake Blues dedicates "Sweet Home Chicago" to the "Late Great Magic Sam".
5. Rockin' Wild in Chicago
Rockin' Wild in Chicago is a live recording taken from earlier in Magic Sam's career and spans a couple of dates in the early 60's in Chicago. Again the sound quality because of the age and the nature of the recording is not great but the music is still worth it and the sound quality gets better over the course of the CD
Highlight is an early live version of "I Found Me a New Love." which was to re-surface later on "West Side Soul" but the raw liver version gives it a dirty or urgent feel.
Best way is to turn the lights down low and imagine you're in a smoky bar discovering this immense talent for the first time.
The Late Great Magic Sam CD available on Amazon
7. The Magic Sam Legacy
The Magic Sam Legacy album features outtakes from the recording sessions from Sams two albums West Side Soul and Black Magic.This includes Magic Sam's interpretations on some blues classics as well as alternate takes and non-released Sam originals.
Of the unreleased gems highlights include "Blues For Odie Payne", a soulful instrumental with wonderful piano, and the slow burner "Keep On Doin' What You're Doin'".
This collection serves to fill out the other two studio albums.
10. Chi Town Blues
Chi Town Blues is a new release from Jukebox Entertainment and contains a plethora Shuffles, 12 Bar Blues and Boogies which highlight the musical talent of Magic Sam.
You wouldn't want this to be your first Magic Sam record hence its position at number 10 on the list but if you want a chance to explore more about this "lost too early" talent then this is a good place to start.
Give Me Time CD available on Amazon
8. Give Me Time
The Give Me Time album is the result of a casual 1968 recording made at his West Side residence. it contains a variety of solo blues and soul tunes, including a few that were never released elsewhere and typically Magic Sam goes for broke.
This shows Sam at home and relaxed which adds to the nature of the music, "Give Me Time" and "You're So Fine" are standouts.
The sound quality isn't superb as it was recorded "at home" almost 40 years ago but considering the value of the contents that's a small price to pay.
9. Magic Touch
The Magic Touch album is a fairly rare live recording from 1966 at Silvio's in Chicago and documents an artist just about to turn the corner in the nature of his fame. The recording is live but surprisingly good and the guitar work is exceptional.
"I've Been Down So Long," and "I Just Can't Please You" show Sam at his finger-licking best.