Like each of the entries in the Classic blues catalog, The Essential Bill Gaither summarizes the artist's contribution to musical history by tapping into his complete works as reissued by Document in five volumes a few years prior to this collection's appearance in 2001. Gaither, whose recording career began in 1935 and was interrupted then ultimately terminated by the Second World War, operated under the combined influences of Leroy Carr, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Jazz Gillum, Peetie Wheatstraw, and Big Maceo Merriweather. Most but not all of his records were made with Indianapolis pianist Honey Hill, and the producers of this collection were thoughtful enough to include Hill's only known piano solos, "Boogie Woogie" and "Set ‘Em." While no two people familiar with Gaither's works would be able to agree on the ideal tune selection, there is enough variety here to demonstrate his range of moods, subject matter, and tempos, from slow and wistful to what he himself referred to as
"barrel house." This is classic Midwestern blues of the '30s and early '40s, much of it hatched on the road as Gaither restlessly tooled around on his motorcycle from Louisville to Indianapolis to Chicago and all the way down to New Orleans. Despite his having been posthumously upstaged by some of his contemporaries, Bill Gaither's recordings became available in the digital format during the early '90s and the appearance of his Essential Classic Blues edition at the dawn of the 21st century stands as a righteous salute to his memory. Presently, the one persistent source of confusion is the likelihood of Gaither getting mixed up with an identically named contemporary white gospel singer.