On America’s birthday we as Americans celebrate our independence and the birth of a new nation. It is often said that there is nothing more American than baseball and mom’s apple pie. Jazz is often referred to as the “true American art form” as I always have held a passion for jazz this old rocker would like to pose the question; what about the blues?
Somewhere around 1911 through 1914 the blues was first made popular by composer, W.C. Handy. Handy first heard an old man sitting on a bench in front of a rail station in Tutwiler, MS repeating the refrain “where the Southern crosses the Yellow Dog”. However, the poetic and musical form of the blues materialized around 1910 with Handy’s “Instrumental Blues,” “Memphis Blues,” originally known as “Boss Crump’s Blues,” and “St. Louis Blues” helped to increase its popularity. Here is a rendition of that song Handy heard.
By the 1920’s, the blues had become a national craze. The first vocal blues song recorded was “Crazy Blues,” by Mamie Smith in 1920. The influence that the blues had on jazz inspired singers like Essie Smith, and later Billie Holliday.
The Great Depression forced many businesses along Beale Street to close, never to be opened again. As more and more businesses closed, the blues migrated North to Chicago, where the blues became electrified.
In Chicago and Detroit during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s artists such as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James played what was typically Mississippi Delta blues backed by bass, drums, piano, and harmonica. These artists began scoring national hits with blues songs.
During this same time, T-Bone Walker and B.B. King were pioneering a new style of guitar playing, combining jazz techniques with blues. It was B.B. King back in Memphis who in invented the concept of lead guitar now used by rock bands today. At the same time Son House, Leadbelly, and Bukka White were creating sounds of traditional acoustic blues.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the urban blues man was discovered by young white American and European musicians. Many blues based bands such as The Rolling Stones, Cream, Canned Heat, The Yardbirds, and Fleetwood Mac brought the blues to young white audiences.
Since the 1960’s rock has undergone several blues revivals. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix spin-off styles were strongly influenced by the blues.
Continuing a great blues tradition today, are Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Eric Clapton among others.
Another huge contributor to the music as well as the cultural scene was the music and artists that emerged from the Bay Area. Together with its counter-cultural community, the artist would perform live in the streets and in the mid 60’s and early 70’s many San Francisco based bands would record those songs. Although different in style and sound the bands from the Bay Area were similar as in their use of different chord progressions, increased emphases on the bass guitar and drums. This sound was not just influenced by the British sound but also from folk rock, Chicago electric blues and soul music of Detroit.
Notable artists of the area and time are, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Santana, The Great Society, Quicksilver Messenger Service, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Country Joe and the Fish.
Even today the San Francisco sound remains a model to many artists from then and today.
Psychedelic music can be found in all genres of music. Rock n’ roll does not have the corner on this form of expression. True its roots primarily come from rock n’ roll of the 1960’s when artists would combine electric sounds and Eastern influences stimulated by the use of mind-altering drugs (LSD being the catalyst for most psychedelic music of the Sixties). Nevertheless, psychedelic music could be found in folk, pop, soul and even Western art music.
Also known as Acid Rock, psychedelic music can be defined as simply surrealism or dream like. The Beatles are well known for their psychedelic music of the mid Sixties. Songs such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Am the Walrus” were supposedly drug induced. Many artists and their music of the Sixties have been associated with hallucinogenic drug use. Acts included Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Cream, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors. The real question being, were these acid rock songs written while on acid (LSD) or is it simply music one listens to while on acid? If I were to guess I would say a little of both.
One needs to keep this in the back of his mind–the music business is just that a business. A big part of an artist’s success is perception, good or bad. Whatever will sell records.
Other acts of the Sixties that have over the years been considered psychedelic music makers are Iron Butterfly, The Byrds, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Country Joe and the Fish. Even the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s efforts to match The Beatles released the album “Pet Sounds”. Later the single “Good Vibrations” would become a big Beach Boys hit.
Since its conception in the Sixties, psychedelic rock or acid rock still plays an influential roll to artists and performers today.
We learn in our guts, not just in our brains, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life; not in avoiding pain, but in being pain when it is necessary to do so. Too large an order? Too hard? On the contrary, it is the easy way
Charlotte Joko Beck