“This project is near and dear to Jack’s heart,” explained Third Man Records’ Ben Blackwell when asked about the label’s Document Records reissue series. It should come as no surprise to Jack White’s followers that he would champion the music of America’s blues pioneers as he has always been very vocal about the musicians and especially the records that inspire him.
The fact that many of these LPs have been unavailable for decades was the driving force behind Third Man’s decision to partner with Document. Established 1986 by Johnny Parth in Austria, Document Records specializes in rescuing and reissuing early American roots music, with a heavy emphasis on blues. However, it has been nearly twenty years since Document has issued that music on LP. Who better, then, to fill this breach than the vinyl enthusiasts at Third Man?
The first three records in this Third Man/Document series are scheduled for release on Tuesday, January 29th with Volume 1 of The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order from Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell and The Mississippi Sheiks, respectively. Subsequent volumes will follow on a regular basis and new artists will be introduced as soon as the first series is completed.
All titles have been painstakingly remastered by Document’s Gary Atkinson with striking new artwork by Grammy Award-winning designer Rob Jones. Music journalist Mick Middles contributes thorough liner notes for each LP, furthering Third Man’s effort to educate a new generation about the aural building blocks of blues, R&B, soul, rock, country, punk; really, every American genre that followed in its wake.
The label’s commitment to the series is concrete: “These records will remain in print and on vinyl as long as Third Man Records exists,” states Jack White in an introductory video and a point Blackwell emphasizes in conversation with TVD. The series’ inaugural artists were carefully chosen by Third Man from Document’s extensive library and all three are prime exponents of the Missisippi Delta blues tradition.
Charley Patton, considered by many to be “The Father of The Delta Blues,” came to prominence while working on The Dockery Plantation in the early 1900s, influencing contemporaries like Robert Johnson as well as future electric blues pioneers John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. Celebrated in song by Bob Dylan, Blind Willie McTell was a deft slide guitarist who recorded and toured extensively from the ‘20s through the ‘50s and posthumously helped ignite the great ‘60s blues explosion. The Mississippi Sheiks, founded by the Chatmon family in Bolton, Mississippi, recorded over 70 songs in their brief five-year tenure, including the classic “Sitting on Top of the World,” which has been covered by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Cream.
To today’s MP3-ed, auto-tuned ears, recordings this raw, this primal, this PASSIONATE can be downright scary. But that’s precisely why you need to hear them. From Charley, Willie or the Sheiks you can draw a straight musical line to Muddy Waters — The Yardbirds — The Rolling Stones — The White Stripes — The Black Keys and more.
Nothing, least of all music, is created in a vacuum and to be a true music fan, you need to be able to place whatever you are hearing in the proper context. Popular music’s “big bang” is captured within these grooves. Put them on your turntable and hear history come alive in all its gritty, greasy glory.