Lenny Henry’s five favourite blues albums

“Woke up this morning, had a glass of champagnes,” jokes Sir Lenny Henry. On his debut album New Millennium Blues, the veteran British comedian/actor/knight of the realm has just reinvented himself as a 21st century bluesman, with help from King Crimson guitarist Jakko Jakszyk. Here, we ask the man himself to pick the five blues albums that changed his life.

BB King - Live in Cook County Jail

Lenny Henry: “From the worried sounding-lady who introduces the local sheriff and a local judge (both of whom are booed roundly by the audience) to the mad, big band sound of Every Day I Have The Blues – which skips through its arrangement as though BB has some other place he wants to be. How Blue Can You Get? is the highlight of the album – BB plays guitar as though he might be kept behind at Cook County if he doesn’t get it right. Genius level playing - unhurried, soulful and moving all at the same time.”

John Lee Hooker - Tantalising With The Blues

LH: “This sounds like JLH is playing live - it’s got that big fat room sound, and his voice has that don’t-mess-with-me menace throughout. He also looks pretty smooth on the cover.”

Bonnie Raitt - The Lost Broadcast - Philadelphia 1972 (Live)

LH: “Gene Shay [American broadcaster] announces that ‘we are truckin’ along here with some music that’s gonna make you feel happy and sad, because this lady knows how to do it.’ Then he name-checks the band – Dan Freberg on bass, TJ Tindall on guitar, John Davies on harp – and Bonnie Raitt’s voice comes in. And okay, I love Aretha, Bessie, Victoria, Ma Rainey, Tina - all those brilliant voices – but there’s something about Bonnie’s voice here: raw, sexy and full of emotion. Plus she plays slide like she’s been bitten by a Delta Vampire…”

Muddy Waters - Blue Skies – The Best of Muddy Waters

LH: “Most Muddy Waters albums work for me, but this best of features selections from the Blue Skies recordings which literally leap out of the speakers and tear your face off. The band are tight – and Johnny Winter is in there yelling and shouting and cursing and playing electric guitar, too. Muddy sounds like he’s having the time of his life. And his voice conveys the blues, the groove, late nights and hungover mornings. He sings about voodoo and mojos and wanting to be loved. And that’s all right by me.”

Howlin’ Wolf - Little Red Rooster

LH: “When I was making the blues documentary for Sky recently, Lloyd Grossman told me that when he turned 16, he was dispatched to Chicago for a trip. His dad apparently knew people there who could show him a good time. When Grossman Jr showed up at the airport, waiting for him were Howlin’ Wolf and father of the blues Willie Dixon. He told me that for the remainder of the week, he was squired around some of the roughest, funkiest blues clubs and bars that no 16-year-old should ever have been made to visit. I believe he had a good time, though. This album sounds nasty – big room sound, fat bass, and Wolf’s voice perches on top doing his thing. Gorgeous stuff.”

So What's Lenny Henry Got To Sing The Blues About?

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.