A Playlist – Music to Sip Whiskey to: A Gentleman’s Introduction to the Blues

A Playlist – Music to Sip Whiskey to: A Gentleman’s Introduction to the Blues
Pour a whiskey, kick back, and immerse yourself in the classic American art form + some of my favorite sipping whiskies.
Music to Sip Whiskey to: A Gentleman's Introduction to the Blues - A Playlist

It’s Saturday night and you’ve got some buddies over for a glass of bourbon and good conversation. You’re on a long nighttime drive and you need something relaxed but grooving to make the miles shorter. It’s Friday night and you’re winding down from the week with a cocktail and you want something with more depth and drive than Netflix. What’s the soundtrack for each of these moments?

If you’re like me, it’s nothing but the blues. Whether it’s Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, or Jimi Hendrix, blues music is the sound of a downtempo evening with a touch of class and reflection. The funny thing is, when I mention this to friends I find that most people have lost touch with the blues as an art form. Sure, we all know the giants of blues like B.B. King, but when was the last time you really settled into the simple complexity of a good blues song?

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BB King once said, “People all over the world have problems. And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die.” He’s speaking to that quality of the blues that gives it its name and that everybody recognizes: the raw, unflinchingly honest rendering of heartbreak. As Louis Armstrong put it, “When I play, maybe ‘Back o' Town Blues,' I'm thinking about one of the old, low-down moments – when maybe your woman didn't treat you right. That's a hell of a moment when a woman tell you, ‘I got another mule in my stall.'”

Less well known is that blues music traces its genesis from (among other things) African-American work songs in the 19th century, incorporating spirituals, field hollers, shouts, chants, and narrative ballads – qualities you hear in blues music if you listen. In the early 20th century, the blues began to take shape as a loose narrative, sung with repetition that spoke of the hardships, trials, and experiences of black Americans. As African-Americans moved northward to escape Jim Crow, the blues transformed to fit new urban settings, became more complex and more fully instrumented, and continues its evolution to this day.

My story with blues music begins as the blues entered the 1960s. The heyday of blues music on the radio in the 1940s and 50s was winding down as popular tastes were turning towards rock music, but white musicians like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and others took up the blues and made their own contributions. It seems few people know or remember this, but many of the greatest rockers of all time started out as pure blues bands!

It was through Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Clapton that I first came to the electric guitar driven, feel-good style of blues I connected with. From there, I started to explore and appreciate artists like Muddy Waters, T Bone Walker, and John Lee Hooker. As ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons put it,”The blues is a mighty long road. Or it could be a river, one that twists and turns and flows into a sea of limitless musical potential.”

Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert in the blues – at all – but an evening of quality whiskey and good blues has been a standby of mine for years and it was time to put together a list of favorite tracks I could share with like-minded guys. The question was, where to begin? I sought out the help of Charles Sawyer, author of a BB King biography, blues band leader, and teacher of a Harvard class on the blues. Sawyer turned me on to some artists I’d never encountered and broadened the scope of my playlist.

This selection is not exhaustive and it’s not meant to be – I want to share with you some of the rollicking tracks that pulled me in, along with some classic must-listens. The quality that unites all the blues I love is a looseness – I think it’s called groove – that makes you wonder if the song is just going to fall apart at any moment. But it doesn’t. It keeps jamming and each night I enjoy the blues, the good vibes keep rolling. I hope you enjoy it.

The Spotify playlist is embedded below or you can reach it directly here.

A few of my favorite sipping whiskies

Please share this post and spread the good word on the Blues!

Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.

  • David

    What a great post, thanks Andrew!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Thanks David, hope you enjoy! 🙂

  • Serafin Nunez

    New Orleans is sorely underrepresented in this list…

    • rogun

      I always think of New Orleans more as Jazz, although I know it has it’s share of great blues artists, too.

  • Drake Bowman

    Just when I thought I couldn’t like possibly like this website more, you do a post about blues and sipping whiskey. It’s just uncanny.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      haha! Thanks Drake! Made my day.

  • Marc

    Came for the Stevie Ray Vaughn, leaving satisfied as a Texan.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Yessss

  • Big O

    Great freaking article Andrew!!!!! Can’t wait to listen to your Blues tracks!

    I was curious to get your take on Blantons. I’m about to finish my bottle of Makers and a co-worker of mine recommends that I try Blantons next.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Absolutely! Vanilla, honey, tobacco, smooth without too much burn but still some to keep it interesting.

  • Ron Benesch

    This is a little off topic, but what watch is that in the cover photo?

  • Al

    Did I miss the link or are you going post the playlist on spotify?

  • Henning

    I really liked this post- you opened up a new genre to me!
    btw: Do you think you could do more self-development-articles again?
    Best, Henning

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      We have some great ones we’re working on right now! 🙂

  • rogun

    Nice article Andrew! I’m also a blues fan. I listened to Led Zepplins’ “I Can’t Quit You Baby” just tonight. This is the music I grew up listening to and I still think it’s the best.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Thanks Rogun! 🙂

  • William Klauck

    I have yet to try Aberlour. How does it compare to Glenfiddich 15?

  • James Thomson-Sakhrani

    Took Charlie’s class a few years ago. It should still be available as an audit course through the Harvard Extension School. Absolutely worth the investment for anyone who wants to learn about Blues music. Amazing class, one of my favourites. Very glad to see him recognized here.

  • Michael Garner

    Great list. I like the Foghat cover of I Just Want To Make Love To You.

  • Eric L.

    Super article! Love the music on the playlist – Muddy Waters, Zepplin, Clapton, and even a track from the Allman Brothers (one of my favorite bands)! Had a great weekend a couple weekends ago at an old college buddy’s place, spend the night sipping on Basil Hayden and listening to old bluesy songs (and then some 90’s rock – how great was music in the 90’s?) Also, thanks for recommending some new whiskies to try!

  • Jon Trapp

    In case anyone is interested, here’s the playlist on Apple Music: ​
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/a-gentlemans-intro-to-the-blues/idpl.fdd4ffe6781d4ae3b1fd9d043420f88e

  • http://lefkowitz.me Michael Lefkowitz

    Killer whiskeys and playlist to boot. I’ve been working on my own whiskey playlist for some time too – https://open.spotify.com/user/leftynaut/playlist/4q5bpzRT998ULIlTCuhQLZ