Top 10 Blues Project Songs

Blues Project Songs

Feature Photo: Elektra Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The top 10 Blues Projects songs came from a group that officially got its start in Greenwich Village, New York. The inspiration behind Blues Project as a band came from Elektra Records when it gathered a collection of musicians from Greenwich to put together a compilation album. The Blues Project was a 1964 release that had its talent pool perform as if they were black-skinned musicians. One of them was Danny Kalb, a guitarist who recorded two acoustic-based songs for Elektra for the album.

This project came at a time when the infamous Beatles-led “British Invasion” swept across the nation and shoved the genres of acoustic blues and folk music to the backburner. Fans were flocking to garage-style and psychedelic rock, a trend that gave the music industry cause to shift focus to keep up with whatever seemed popular at the time.

The Blues Project, Chapter One

After Elektra released The Blues Project as an album, Kalb ditched his acoustic guitar in favor of an electric one. He put together the Danny Kalb Quartet after recruiting Roy Blumenfeld, Andy Kulberg, and Artie Traum in early 1965. However, Traum headed for Europe during the summer and was replaced with a new guitarist, Steve Katz. Before the year was over, Tommy Flanders joined the lineup, and the band’s name was officially changed to The Blues Project.

While auditioning for Columbia Records, producer Tom Wilson brought Al Kooper on board to work with the band. Despite recruiting Kooper to join the Blues Project, Columbia Records wasn’t interested but MGM Records was as Wilson had just switched labels as a producer. Under MGM’s subsidiary label, Verve/Folkways, the Blue Project recorded its first album while performing at Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village. Just before Live at The Cafe Au Go Go was released in 1966, Flanders opted out of the lineup while the remaining members of the group toured across the United States.

As soon as the tour was done, the Blues Project returned to New York and recorded its first studio album, Projections. This was also a 1966 release that featured an eclectic tracklist of songs that used a variety of different music styles such as blues, folk, jazz, psychedelic, R&B, and rock. As soon as Projections was finished, the Blues Project continued to splinter apart as a group. Kooper was next to leave during the spring of 1967, just before the group finished recording Live At Town Hall as its third album. Contradictory to the album’s title, only one song was recorded live at New York’s town hall.

The rest were recordings that took place at other venues or in the studio with overdubbed applauses to make some of the songs sound as if they were performed before a live audience. From the album, Kooper’s “No Time Like the Right Time” was the only single that would earn the Blues Project a hit on any of the US Billboard music charts.

In June 1967, the Blues Project performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival that was held in Monterey, California. By this time, only Blumenfeld, Kalb, Katz, and Kulberg were left. Kooper was also at the festival but was working as an assistant stage manager to Chip Monck. After the festival was over, Kalb and Katz were both out, leaving only Blumenfeld and Kulberg to carry on as the Blue Project’s surviving remnants. Both men recorded and released what became the Blues Project’s fourth album, Planned Obsolescence. After it was released in 1968, Blumenfeld and Kulberg dropped the Blues Project name in favor of a new name, Seatrain. Technically, Planned Obsolescence should have been recognized as a Seatrain recording but due to contract obligations, it was credited to the Blues Project instead.

The Blues Project, Chapter Two

With the Blues Project behind them, Steve Katz and Al Kooper teamed up to form a band that used horns as part of its brand of rock music. This was Kooper’s brainchild as Blood, Sweat & Tears recorded and released its first studio album, Child Is Father to the Man. This 1968 album would be Kooper’s first and last contribution to the band before moving on to record music with Mike Bloomfield, Harvey Brooks, and Stephen Stills. As a producer for Columbia Records, Kooper teamed with these three men for 1968’s Super Session, an album that featured Bloomfield’s guitar performance on one side and Stills’ guitar performance on the other. While Kooper was busy working as a producer for Columbia Records, he was also recording music as a solo artist. In the meantime, Katz stayed on with Blood, Sweat & Tears until 1973.

While Katz and Kooper carried on with their respective careers, the Blues Project continued to move forward with a modified lineup that saw three more albums recorded and released. First was 1971’s Lazarus, then 1972’s Blues Project. These two, along with 1973’s The Original Blues Project Reunion in Central Park, failed to win much of an audience upon their release. As a result, this version of the Blues Project stuck to performing occasional fundraising concerts and reunion concerts.

As of  February 2023, the lineup of Roy Blumenfeld and Steve Katz as the modern-day Blues Project released what became the group’s eighth album, Evolution. In addition to these recordings are six compilation albums that have been released between 1969 and 1997. Today, the Blues Project continues as Blumenfeld and Katz carry on with a group that started their successful careers as recording artists over fifty years ago.

Top 10 Blues Project Songs

#10 – Alberta

The moody vocal performance by Danny Kalb turned “Alberta” from a traditional blues tune into a gem that could borderline itself as soft psychedelic. This Blues Project version of the 1935 Lead Belly classic was recorded in 1965 by the Greenwich Village-based group. Live at The Cafe Au Go Go featured “Alberta” as one of the songs covered a talent pool that focused its musical energy into some of the most beloved blues classics.

When American folk music began to experience a revival, “Alberta” became a popular favorite covered by many musicians and recording artists. When the Blues Project performed this at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, it was before a live audience before it became one of the gems on the group’s debut album when it was released in 1966.

#9 – Steve’s Song

Written by Steve Katz, “Steve’s Song” was supposed to be titled “September Fifth” but the title became a victim of miscommunication the Blues Project’s manager had with its label, MGM Records. The intro of this song was beautifully played by Andy Kulberg on the flute while Al Kooper used an electronic synthesizer known as an Ondioline. This was Katz’s first song he ever wrote but was by no means his last. This lighthearted and playful song starts as an instrumental number before Katz’s lyrics bring to light what “September Fifth” was about. The transition between winter and fall came across as a metaphorical description of a person’s mindset as they learn to cope from one moment to the next.

#8 – You Can’t Catch Me (1966 version)

Many Blues Project fans will argue the best version of “You Can’t Catch Me” was on its Original Blues Project Reunion in Central Park album. Recorded and released in 1973, the lineup who performed this song was Danny Kalb, Steve Katz, and Al Kooper. While nobody can beat Chuck Berry’s legendary performance that was recorded in 1956, the three men who engineered the Blues Project to achieve its greatest height of success did a decent job with their version. The Blues Project also recorded “You Can’t Catch Me” for its 1966 album, Projections as well but the reunion performance remains the standout favorite among a fan base who loved this group’s brand of bluesy rock.

#7 – Wake Me, Shake Me

From Projections, “Wake Me, Shake Me” was a traditional gospel song the Blues Project amped up whenever the group finished a show it performed before a live audience. Treating it as a blues meets gospel number, the band often used this song as a tool to improvise its lyrics and musical content. The lineup of Roy Blumenfeld, Danny Kalb, Steve Katz, Al Kooper, and Andy Kluberg made a niche out of covering various blues and gospel songs with an artistic approach that turned traditional classics into folksy favorites. This song was recorded and released in 1966 as an alternative brand of music that didn’t necessarily cater to the trends of garage-style rock that was all the rage at that time.

#6 – The Way My Baby Walks

Originally written by Andy Kulberg, “The Way My Baby Walks” was the only song on the Live at The Cafe Au Go Go tracklist that was a Blues Project original. Released as a single in 1966, it failed to make a chart appearance on any of the official music lists that were published at the time. This doesn’t diminish the quality of the song, however.

While the Blues Project was active as a band recording music, the genres of blues and folk music were forced to take a backseat to the surging popularity of garage-style music that was trending at the time. Rich with bass and guitar, “The Way My Baby Walks” was a jazz meets pop gem that also had Kooper shine as a keyboardist. Whenever listening to this song, instead of simply visualizing a love interest’s style of walking, it offered a great opportunity to show off a few dance moves too.

#5 – Flute Thing

The jazzy instrumental “Flute Thing” was composed by Al Kooper before Andy Kulberg’s flute playing rendered this tune a Blues Project classic. Fans of the Beastie Boys may recognize it from the hip-hop group’s “Flute Loop” as it was a song recorded for its album, III Communication. As the song progressed, each member of the Blues Project laid out solos that included Kooper’s keyboard work. Danny Kalb performed solo with his guitar while Roy Blumenfeld did the same with his drums. The beauty of this song was the flute doing all the talking while the listener gets caught up in the moment of this wonderfully entertaining number.

#4 – Two Trains Running

“Two Trains Running” became a blues standard after the iconic Muddy Waters had this song recorded and released in 1950. Scores of musicians and recording artists have since covered this song as part of their musical repertoire over the years, including the Blues Project. The 1966 extended version that was performed live was very different than the one featured in the group’s second album, Projections. What made this song stand out as a favorite was how a versatile lineup of Danny Kalb, Steve Katz, Al Kooper, and Andy Kulberg worked together to pay creative and respectable homage to one of the greatest Muddy Waters classics of all time.

Kalb’s eleven-plus-minute performance was considerably different than the one featured on Projections. Before the album version was finished recording, Kalb’s guitar strings fell out of tune but he was quick to get it back into shape while the band was still playing. The overall favorite between the two versions of “Two Trains Running” has been the one that ran for over eleven minutes as each instrumentalist was able to show off his talent without having to answer to a label and its list of restrictions.

#3 – Back Door Man

While nothing truly beats the Muddy Waters bluesy classic, “Back Door Man” was a song two notable recording groups covered in 1967. The Blues Project, paying an eleven-plus minute homage to the blues standard was overshadowed by the psychedelic rock version performed by the Doors. As lead vocalist, Tommy Flanders sang “Back Door Man” while he and his bandmates performed Live at The Cafe Au Go Go. Written by Willie Dixon, “Back Door Man” was a familiar term used in the Southern United States to describe extramarital affairs. To avoid getting caught, the visiting lover would make a quick escape to avoid getting caught by their partner’s spouse.

#2 – I Can’t Keep From Crying

1966’s Projections was an album that featured Al Kooper’s “I Can’t Keep From Crying,” a single that fused the best elements of gospel and psychedelic rock. Although this wasn’t recognized as a hit on any of the official music charts at the time, this was a mere taste of things to come from Kooper as a singer-songwriter even after his run with the Blues Project was done. The 1928 gospel original “Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying” was first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson and Willie B. Harris. It was enough to inspire Kooper to spin his take on a song that became one of his best musical arrangements while still with the Blues Project lineup.

#1 – No Time Like the Right Time

Recorded and released in 1967, “No Time Like the Right Time” was one of Al Kooper’s final contributions as a member of the Blues Project. This song came from the group’s third album, Live At Town Hall. Contradictory to the album’s title, “No Time Like the Right Time” was a studio recording that featured an overdubbing technique that made it sound like it was performed before a live audience. No other song released from the Blues Project received as much commercial attention as “No Time Like the Right Time” did. It was also the group’s closest performance to a pop song than it had done before it was disbanded.

The opening instrumental featured Roy Blumenffeld at the drums, sounding like train wheels were grinding along while Danny Kalb and Steve Katz added a bit of drama to a song that can be best described as eerie and eclectic. The organ performance by Al Kooper, combined with his vocal performance on the verses, charmed its way with musical tones that felt like it had a bit of a Middle Eastern sound to it. When it came to creativity, the Blues Project had this in abundance.

Top 10 Blues Project Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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