Memphis Blues

COUNTRY: United States

Before the post-World War II influx of African-Americans who moved from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis seeking economic opportunity, the Memphis Blues scene was known not only for its guitarists, but for its “jug bands.” These were small ensembles that played highly danceable, syncopated jazz rhythms and whose musicians played on acoustic, sometimes homemade instruments–guitars, banjos, violin, harmonicas, mandolins, and sometimes washboards, guimbardes and even kazoos. Rather than have a bass guitar, musicians in bands would make the bass sound by blowing rhythmically into a large, deep jug.

[Listen to the MEMPHIS JUG BAND perform, “Round and Round [wpspoiler name=”Jug band spoiler test” ][/wpspoiler]

(note the kazoo) for an example of the early Memphis sound | Listen to Memphis-based jug band GUS CANNON’S JUG STOMPERS play “Big Railroad Blues,” recorded in 1928–listen closely and you can hear Cannon on the jug | Watch Kentucky-based Whistler’s Jug Band perform “Foldin’ Bed” in a rare film from the late 1920s to see an early jug band in action | Listen to accomplished Memphis-based guitarist “Memphis Minnie” perform “Me & My Chauffeur” in 1941]

After World War II, African-Americans from the Mississippi Delta moving to Memphis looking for work entered the city’s blues scene. Modern Delta guitarists began to performed along Beale Street and in West Memphis, nudging the city’s musical sound in the direction of electric blues (very much as in Chicago).

While Sam Phillips’ Sun Records Company recorded Memphis blues musicians like B.B. KING, Phillips is also widely credited with “discovering” ELVIS PRESLEY in 1954. After adding Elvis and JERRY LEE LEWIS to its roster, Sun Records changed its focus to producing rock ‘n’ roll records for an expanding white audience. [Watch B.B. King and his famed guitar, “Lucille,” in an extraordinary performance of “Why I Sing the Blues” in Zaire, Africa, in 1974.]


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