The American Southern Rock band Grinderswitch, members of whom were once roadies for the Allman Brothers Band, recorded this instrumental blues for the Capricorn LP 'Macon Tracks' in 1975. Due to its association with John Peel's show from the very beginning, the track was subsequently released as a 7 inch single in the UK the following year, but failed to crack the top 40. It also made the Festive Fifty chart that year.
It features some virtuoso guitar work by the late Dru Lombard that, if John played it for long enough (for example, if there was time remaining before the pips at the end of his show), he referred to as 'the good bit'.
Show Plays (As Sig)
When Peel's previous vehicle Top Gear came to an end in September 1975, rather than have a specially recorded theme (as the Nice had done for the aforementioned show), John merely chose something from what one assumes was his own collection. 'Pickin' The Blues' subsequently topped and tailed almost every show from 29 September 1975 and can still be heard introducing the 29 February 1992 show. However, it was eventually dropped, to be replaced by Corporation-manufactured items. It continued to herald his BBC World Service shows until the very end of their run.
*He played 'a little bit more than we usually play' at the close of his 20 November 1975 show, following a listener enquiry.
Its stately opening seemed to chime well with the material JP was playing at the time, but over the years, as one musical revolution after another hit the DJ's show, it came to have an increasingly anachronistic quality which John himself even came to recognise: indeed, on the 30 December 1986 show, he expressed a wish to change it in the following year (some listeners even remember him experimenting with different themes at one point during the 80s).
Years after he had ceased to use the tune, JP came up with an anecdote about it in response to a listener query:
(Grinderswitch) played at a Reading Festival one year and had brought over some kind of extravagant present to give me, because I'd been using their tune for so long, they'd derived quite a bit of income from it. At some stage, unfortunately, when they were holed up in a hotel room in London getting ready to give me the present, they must have listened to the programme. They decamped in horror and took the present away with them as well, and so I never got it. There you go, must have listened to the programme and hated what they heard. Disappointing, but that's the way life is at times. (23 January 2002 show.)
The song itself appears to have been first performed by Elmore James, possibly written with or by his producer Bobby Robinson and recorded in 1962 or 1963, although "Cowboy" Lloyd Copas was credited as the writer of the Grinderswitch version. A version by Copas was played on 14 February 1980, although Peel admits this bears little resemblance to the familiar rendition by Grinderswitch.
XTC, as part of their 4th session, made an entire spoof of the opening to a Peel show, including a version of 'Pickin' The Blues'. This opens the 20 November 1979 programme, eliciting JP's comment, 'Ooh, I do hate a smart Alec.'