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

 

EARLY BLUES:

W.C. Handy | Bessie Smith | Ma Rainey | Tampa Red

COUNTRY BLUES:

Jimmie Rodgers | Blind Blake

MISSISSIPPI (DELTA) BLUES:

Robert Johnson | Charley Patton

PIEDMONT BLUES:

Blind Willie McTell | Blind Boy Fuller | Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

MEMPHIS BLUES:

Memphis Jug Band | Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers | Memphis Minnie | B.B. King

BOOGIE WOOGIE:

Clarence “Pine Top” Smith | Jimmy Yancey | (guitar boogie: John Lee Hooker)

BIG BAND BLUES/JUMP BLUES:

Jimmy Rushing | Lionel Hampton | Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five

CHICAGO BLUES:

Muddy Waters | Willie Dixon | Howlin’ Wolfe | Sonny Boy Williamson

ELECTRIC BLUES:

T-Bone Walker | Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry

SWAMP BLUES:

Lightnin’ Slim

SKIFFLE:

Lonnie Donegan | A very young Jimmy Page

LATIN BLUES:

Carlos Santana (performing with Buddy Guy)

TULSA BLUES:

J.J. Cale

TEXAS ROCK-BLUES:

Stevie Ray Vaughn

EARLY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL:

Elvis Presley | Little Richard | Buddy Holly | The Big Bopper | Ritchie Valens

SOUL:

Etta James | Ray Charles | Otis Redding | Sam Cooke | Mavis
Staples
| The Staple Singers | Aretha Franklin | Solomon Burke

The Supremes | Smokey Robinson & The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips | Stevie Wonder

Curtis Mayfield | Earth, Wind & Fire | The Commodores

FUNK:

The JBs | James Brown | Sly & the Family Stone | Parliament/Funkadelic

**

In class we’re going to say…

Hello in “Big Bopper:”

Hello, baby!

Goodbye in blues:

I’m going down the line

BLUES:

“The Blues” is a globally-rooted, American-born genre of music that, while it has developed a very particular set of musical parameters and technical requirements, ultimately it is about how that song you’re singing makes you feel.

The blues didn’t come from just one source, but most music historians acknowledge that blues artists owe a great debt to musicians from Africa. Not only did early blues instruments like the diddley bow originate in West Africa, but the terrible heartache of African slavery clearly provided blues musicians with a reason for to wail. [Listen to American blues guitarist John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” and then to Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure’s “Tamala” to get a sense of how West African music and American blues connect.] That said, the blues music is not always serious or sad. Blues lyrics are often bawdy (so watch out, parents, when searching YouTube for blues videos beyond the ones I’ve sent!) but also might be silly or sarcastic. And, just like the call and response “Negro spirituals” African-American slaves sang while working, and much like the divinely emotional “Gospel music” that had became ubiquitous in African-American churches by the early 1920s, a song about struggle doesn’t have to be a downer. The present may be hard going, but in the future we’ll all meet in heaven.

As we’ll learn below, not only are there are many variations of the blues but there are also many ways the spirit of the blues has inspired and created an emotional context for many other genres. Still, there is a generally agreed-upon “blues form.”

In the basic blues form, there are four beats to each “bar” or “measure”–count 1-2-3-4. The guitarist–or pianist, but most often a guitarist–will play a series of three chords in a progression that lasts for 12 bars before the music cycles back to the beginning. Musicians call this THE 12 BAR BLUES. [Okay, this is hard to explain in words. Let this guy’s video introduce you to the basic 12 bar blues, as well as the 1-4-5 (I-IV-V) chord progression. Wikipedia’s blues page does a pretty good job of introducing the blues form in general.]

Blues lyrics appear within a similar 12 bar structure, usually there are two lines repeated (each line lasting four bars), and then a third line, also lasting four bars, that comments on the first–call, repeated call and response. The first and second lines, since they’re basically the same thing repeated, are called the “A” lines, and the third line (different than the other) is the “B.” The form is therefore called AAB.

For example, listen to Robert Johnson perform “Sweet Home Chicago“:

A: Oh, baby don’t you want to go

A: Oh, baby don’t you want to go

B: Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago.

In class we’ll explore basic 12 bar blues and invent our own AAB songs about our current struggles. (Most likely having to do with diapers.)

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