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The Blues

Updated: Oct 10, 2018

Skip James – Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues

Blues is a type of folk music that sprung from the dislocated and captive souls of African slaves in the USA sometime between the 1780's and the turn of the 20th century.  No doubt steeped in the rich, diverse and ancient musical, ritual, mythological and spiritual traditions of the Mother Land and filtered through the pain and suffering inflicted by this most heinous breech of human rights. The echoes of which still ring out deeply today, both socially and politically as well as in art and media... the wound goes deep.  Out of this, Blues music became a magnificent and impassioned critique of freedom, discrimination, spiritualism, protest, sex, nihilism, drugs and the human condition. 

High Water everywhere – Charlie Patton

Walkin Blues – Son House

Standing on the shoulders of giants and building on the foundations of the last 200 or so years of folk tradition, these blues giants (whose names we know) had already got their chops up in the fields but they honed their craft in Juke joints which came to prominence around the time that people were being freed. In the midst of segregation Juke joints were an adult black community hub where people of could drink, socialize and dance.  The music itself is characterized by the use of the blues scale, blue notes, slide guitar, cross harping, repetitive shuffles and hypnotic grooves; walking bass lines, call & respond and a 12-bar structure (among other things) all of which can be traced back to Africa and on into forms of musical expressions allowed during slavery such as work songs, field hollers, gospel and spirituals. 

Good God Almightly - Lightning Washington and Prisoners

Last kind words blues – Geeshie Wiley

Blues, as its name suggests, has a generally melancholic undertone but actually it can range from being introspective and soulful music to fiery and exciting party songs. What's more, using highly poetic slang prose and normally a loose narrative thread the songs comment on subjects such as social and political observation, Mythology and magic, spiritual expression, sexual tension and male-female relational issues.  

Preaching blues (up jumped the devil) Robert Johnson

Jumper on the line RL Burnside

The earliest recorded type of blues is regarded as Delta blues, originating in the Mississippi Delta and is normally a single singer and acoustic guitar often using open tuning and using a combination of finger picking and slide guitar to create a hypnotic, syncopated repeated pattern of licks and alternating bass strings (Piedmont style).  Although sometimes accompanied by another acoustic instrument or two and sometimes another singer.

Black Mattie – Robert Belfour

Sitting on top of the world – Mississippi Sheiks

Some notable names associated with Delta blues are Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson among many others.  The iridescent and shimmering charm of the Lo-Fi early recordings have captured the amazingly skilled and emotive performances of these incredible bards of their time and in this form, Blues spread into neighboring states to form other sub-genres such as Country blues and Nashville blues. 

Key to the highway – Big Bill Broonzy

John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillun’

Before long industrialization brought on a mass migration of country farm workers out of the delta and into cities where there was the promise of more jobs and of a better way of life. This move combined with the invent of electric guitar and amplification spawned an electric form of blues such as Chicago and Detroit blues. Now loud enough to be played alongside a drummer and to combine more musicians into blues bands and have more complex rhythms and arrangements.

Muddy Waters – Mannish Boy

Howlin’ Wolf – Back Door Man

Blues solidified somewhat in this form but continued to influence and spawn more genres and fusions up to and into the 50's. To name a few: Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, Skiffle and Country. All of which went on to influence the music of the 60's.

Double trouble Otis Rush

Sam Cooke A change is gonna come

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