Guitarist and all-around musician/producer/songwriter Jack White is responsible for shining a light on old delta blues masters that had long been forgotten by the general public. His band The White Stripes covered songs by the likes of Robert Johnson, Son House, and Blind Willie McTell, as well as Captain Beefheart who represent the second generation of experimental blues acts. What’s so great about White’s cover songs is that they don’t sound like covers. To the casual listener it sounds like a White Stripes song, or a Jack White creation. That’s one of White’s foremost accomplishments - being able to rework old material so that it sounds fresh and works within the confines of his musical background, and through that the songs are introduced to a whole new group of fans.
So let’s take a look at some of Jack White and The White Stripes best blues covers!
Robert Johnson - “Stop Breaking Down”
Blues legend Robert Johnson recorded this song during his last recording session back in 1937. It’s just a simple uptempo blues number with nothing but Johnson’s voice accompanied by his Gibson L-1 acoustic. The song has since been covered numerous times, most notably by the Rolling Stones on their Exile On Main Street album. Jack and Meg White also recorded the song for their 1999 self-titled debut. The song takes on a completely different life compared to Johnson’s soft blues number. Although the only instrument added is Meg’s drums, the intensity is turned way up, as is the distortion on Jack’s guitar, transforming the song to garage rock for the new millennium, and making a whole new generation aware of Robert Johnson’s existence in the process. Check out this mash-up video of the Stripes’ and Johnson’s versions:

Blind Willie McTell - “Southern Can Is Mine”
There’s no doubt Jack White was influenced by Blind Willie McTell since The White Stripes’ second album De Stijl was dedicated to the late blues man. McTell’s trademark was fast and intricate fingerstyle guitar playing while singing at the same time, and while White also does some fingerstyle work in the Stripes’ cover, they have slowed the song down considerably, and added tambourine and backing vocals to the song. Again White has managed to take a song and make it his own. This fast ragtime number becomes a slowed down album closer in the hands of Jack and Meg.
The White Stripes - “Your Southern Can Is Mine:”

Son House - “Death Letter”
The most popular blues cover by The White Stripes is probably Son House’s “Death Letter.” This haunting blues number was recorded late in House’s career (1965) on a resonator guitar. As with “Southern Can Is Mine” the song has been slowed down, and it works in favor of the lyrics since they become more intelligible. Just like Son House, Jack White does some great slide work on the song, and even though it is lyrically such a downer of a tune The White Stripes turned it in to a real rocker and a live audience favorite.
The White Stripes - “Death Letter:”

Captain Beefheart - “Party of Special Things To Do”
Out of all the blues musicians that Jack White has covered, the one who most resemble White in style is probably the eclectic Captain Beefheart. Don Van Vliet, which is Beefheart’s real name, worked on and off with Frank Zappa, and was eventually signed to his label. Van Vliet’s blues rock was very innovative at the time of his first album Safe As Milk in 1967. Jack White is obviously quite influenced by Captain Beefheart, since The White Stripes released a 7” single with Beefheart covers back in 2000. Aside from “Party of Special Things To Do,” the single contains the songs “China Pig” and “Ashtray Heart” as well. When White was touring with his band The Dead Weather for the first time, he would play Captain Beefheart’s blues rocker “Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do” over the PA as the band took the stage, adding even a deeper connection between the two musicians. The White Stripes would at times make a medley of “Party of Special Things To Do” and their 2005 hit “Blue Orchid,” effortlessly weaving the songs back and forth through each other.
The White Stripes - “Party of Special Things To Do”

Captain Beefheart - “Party of Special Things To Do”