A Brief History of the Blues: Part #1 - July '07


hunter60
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Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
hunter60
Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
06/25/2007 9:40 pm
“Gonna git me a mojo hand…”
A Brief History of the Blues: Part #1

By Hunter 60


I’ve got to keep moving … I’ve got to keep moving…
Blues fallin’ down like hail … blues fallin’ down like hail
Blues fallin’ down like hail…and the days keep reminding me
There’s a hellhound on my trail…

Robert Johnson – 1936


One of the things that I have noticed during my relatively short time here at GT is how many blues fans there are surfacing every day. So I thought I would share a few of the things that I have learned about it from my almost life long love affair with the blues. This is not a scholarly work by any means but more or less just a pastiche of tid-bits from my own research and reading.

First, we have to define the blues. Not so much in a 12 bar, I-IV-V chord progression way but what do the blues really entail. To find that answer, we have to look back to the early days, to the birth as it were, of the blues. A lot of folks will claim that Robert Johnson was the father of the blues. When Johnson recorded his sides in a small hotel room in San Antonio, Texas in November 1936, the blues had been around and a very popular form of music in the rural southern United States for well over twenty years. Okay, fine, but where did the blues originate? That’s a chicken and the egg question that has been argued and continues to be argued by blues fans, scholars and ethnomusicologists for the past seventy-five years.

And they still don’t know.

But most agree that if they had to pick one, the one originator of the blues, they point to man by the name of Charlie Patton. Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize the name. Most people don’t. Charlie Patton (1891-1934) was the son of a God fearing tenant farmer in Southern Mississippi named Bill Patton who moved him family to the Delta when Charlie was in his early teens. They took up residence at the Dockerty Plantation. By this time Charlie had been playing around on the guitar for a few years and much to the dismay of his father (ignoring his stern warnings and dodging the increasingly vicious corporal punishment), Charlie would sneak away at night and play gigs with a family of entertainers known as the Chatmons in and around the Delta. Most experts agree that this was where Charlie began to hone his craft.

By the time he left home, Charlie had already subscribed to what has become an almost legendary wanderlust style of the early Delta bluesman. Never rooted, Charlie wandered constantly, setting up homes with a variety of women, only to steal off in the middle of the night to re-appear miles away to play the occasional gig at a barn dance, in a juke joint or on a street corner. He was extremely popular across the southern United States and traveled almost constantly.

Although some argue that Charlie learned his stinging slide style from others in the area including Henry Sloan who was one of his earliest instructors, his was one of the very first recorded. His lyric style was personal, often times interjecting his own personal experiences into the songs. ‘Tom Rushen Blues’ about a run in with a sheriff seemed to be a page right out of the book of Patton. “High Water Every Where Blues’ which was practically a narrative of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 (one of the largest natural disasters on record, flooding 27,000 square miles and causing the displacement of nearly 700,000 people. ‘Pony Blues’ and ‘Pea Vine Blues’ are still performed by many contemporary blues guitarists.

Charlie recorded 14 tracks for Paramount in 1929 and twenty-six tracks for ARC in New York in 1934 (interestingly, only a short year after having his throat slit in a juke joint in 1933 near Holly Ridge). He died of heart failure in 1934 but his influence was profound. He inspired, and in many cases taught, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson. He was also a precursor to Jimi Hendrix in his stage antics often times playing the guitar between his legs, behind his neck, on his knees and picking with his teeth. There is even one story of Charlie doing a complete flip off the stage while playing the guitar and never loosing the beat. Bear in mind, this was in the 1920’s and 30’s. Imagine what the audiences at that time must have thought?

So the next time you throw that Strat behind your neck and throw down a lick, remember Charlie.
[FONT=Tahoma]"All I can do is be me ... whoever that is". Bob Dylan [/FONT]
# 1
strat-man
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strat-man
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07/07/2007 2:57 pm
Hey, great column Hunter, look forward to the rest of the series :cool:
Strat totin
Six string slingin
Son of a gun

I met my maker, i made him cry, and on my shoulder he asked me why, his people won't fly thru the storm, i said, listen here man they don't even know your born.

strat-man rocks with vox
# 2
ChristopherSchlegel
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ChristopherSchlegel
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07/27/2007 2:00 am
Good essay! Kudos. :)
Originally Posted by: hunter60Okay, fine, but where did the blues originate?

I've read that the lyrics are from "slave songs" or bastardized hymns. No idea how accurate that is.

I do know the music has it's direct roots in being a simplification of ragtime, two-steps and cakewalks. Like the music of American genius Scott Joplin!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Joplin

Also, note, that another couple of my faves, Gershwin & Ellington had already created and fully incorporated "bluesy" elements into their playing and tunes by the time of Robert Johnson's 1936 recordings.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gershwin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Ellington
Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory
# 3
hunter60
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hunter60
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Joined: 06/12/05
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08/03/2007 11:38 am
Originally Posted by: CSchlegelGood essay! Kudos. :)

I've read that the lyrics are from "slave songs" or bastardized hymns. No idea how accurate that is.

I do know the music has it's direct roots in being a simplification of ragtime, two-steps and cakewalks. Like the music of American genius Scott Joplin!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Joplin

Also, note, that another couple of my faves, Gershwin & Ellington had already created and fully incorporated "bluesy" elements into their playing and tunes by the time of Robert Johnson's 1936 recordings.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gershwin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Ellington



Thank you.

You're absolutely right Mr. Schlegel - from what I've read, generally, the elements of the 'blues' was showing up in minstrels, reels, hymns and early New Orleans jazz at the end of the 19th century, a few years before W.C. Handy heard that nameless young man playing slide guitar with a knife in Tutweiller Station in Memphis.

One of the most interesting things I've found though is that so many early blues players were pigeon-holed as nothing but blues players. Not true. They were musicians. The blues was very popular so that's what they played. Muddy Waters was a HUGE Gene Autry fan and also really, really liked the Big Band sound. Apparently, when Lomax wanted to record him, Muddy wanted to play a couple of pop ballads and some cowboy and hill-billy songs. Lomax, of course, veto'd that and pressed him for 'straight-up' blues.

In the end, the market created the blues. The form was there for a long time but it was the market itself that helped create and fed the music, turning it into the form it is today and what it will sound like tomorrow. Jazz, rock...etc share a similar lineage, I think.
[FONT=Tahoma]"All I can do is be me ... whoever that is". Bob Dylan [/FONT]
# 4
learninclutch
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learninclutch
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08/25/2007 11:12 pm
That article brought alot to my attention! I am fascinated about the blues in rock and roll. Clutch is a band that is bringing the blues flavor back where it belngs, in Rock and Roll. They have a cover of Howlin' Wolfs Whos Been Talkin' and Mississippi Freds Gravel Road. Spectacular !
Learn the common and chromatic blues scale!Sincerely, Fish Head Phil
# 5

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