The U.S. and Canada–The Blues (Delta Blues)

One of the earliest styles of the blues, “Delta Blues” originated in the Mississippi River delta, a region of the United States–if you’re curious, here’s a map–that has long been known for its inhabitants’ poverty. Delta blues is a stripped down and straightforward yet powerful variant of country blues. Many Delta Blues guitarists played “slide guitar,” which involves a guitar player using a broken bottleneck or steel cylinder and sliding it up and down the length of a guitar’s strings to create a smooth sound.

Many early Mississippi slide guitar players learned the form after using a children’s instrument common in the South at the time–an instrument of African known in the U.S. as the diddley bow. A child would play the one-striged, often home made diddley bow by sliding something smooth up and down its neck. Most abandoned the diddley bow for multi-stringed guitars when they could, but still looked back on their childhood bows with affection.

Also in the early part of the 20th century, Hawaiian musicians visiting the United States popularized “steel guitar,” a style in which a guitar player uses a piece of steel and slides it up and down the guitar’s neck to create cascading, free-flowing notes. Country-blues musicians like SYLVESTER WEAVER adopted steel guitar techniques and adapted their guitars so they could perform them with country and Texas swing bands like BOB WILLS and HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS.

[Listen to Robert Johnson perform “Sweet Home Chicago” in 1923 | Listen to Charley Patton perform “Rattlesnake Blues.” His vocal style became known as “hollerin'” or “shoutin” | Watch this example of Delta slide guitar]

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