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.