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Blues Background
Blues is about tradition and personal expression. At its core, the blues has remained the same since its inception. Most blues feature simple, usually three-chord, progressions, and have simple structures that are open to endless improvisations, both lyrical and musical. The blues grew out of African spirituals and work songs. In the late 1800s, southern African-Americans passed the songs down orally, and they collided with American folk and country from the Appalachians. New hybrids appeared by each region, but all of the recorded blues from the early 1900s are distinguished by simple, rural acoustic guitars and pianos. After World War II, the blues began to fragment, with some musicians holding on to acoustic traditions and others taking it to jazzier territory. However, most bluesmen followed Muddy Waters' lead and played the blues on electric instruments. From that point on, the blues continued to develop in new directions -- particularly on electric instruments -- or it has been preserved as an acoustic tradition.

 

When you think of the blues, you think about misfortune, betrayal and regret. You lose your job, you get the blues. Your mate falls out of love with you, you get the blues. Your dog dies, you get the blues.

While blues lyrics often deal with personal adversity, the music itself goes far beyond self-pity. The blues is also about overcoming hard luck, saying what you feel, ridding yourself of frustration, letting your hair down, and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic, and starkly emotional. From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.

The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly African-American history. The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves—African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. It's generally accepted that the music evolved from African spirituals, African chants, work songs, field hollers, rural fife and drum music, revivalist hymns, and country dance music.

The blues grew up in the Mississippi Delta just upriver from New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. Blues and jazz have always influenced each other, and they still interact in countless ways today.

Unlike jazz, the blues didn't spread out significantly from the South to the Midwest until the 1930s and '40s. Once the Delta blues made their way up the Mississippi to urban areas, the music evolved into electrified Chicago blues, other regional blues styles, and various jazz-blues hybrids. A decade or so later the blues gave birth to rhythm 'n blues and rock 'n roll.

No single person invented the blues, but many people claimed to have discovered the genre. For instance, minstrel show bandleader W.C. Handy insisted that the blues were revealed to him in 1903 by an itinerant street guitarist at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi.

During the middle to late 1800s, the Deep South was home to hundreds of seminal bluesmen who helped to shape the music. Unfortunately, much of this original music followed these sharecroppers to their graves. But the legacy of these earliest blues pioneers can still be heard in 1920s and '30s recordings from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and other Southern states. This music is not very far removed from the field hollers and work songs of the slaves and sharecroppers. Many of the earliest blues musicians incorporated the blues into a wider repertoire that included traditional folk songs, vaudeville music, and minstrel tunes.

Without getting too technical, most blues music is comprised of 12 bars (or measures). A specific series of notes is also utilized in the blues. The individual parts of this scale are known as the blue notes.

Well-known blues pioneers from the 1920s such as Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson usually performed solo with just a guitar. Occasionally they teamed up with one or more fellow bluesmen to perform in the plantation camps, rural juke joints, and rambling shacks of the Deep South. Blues bands may have evolved from early jazz bands, gospel choirs and jug bands. Jug band music was popular in the South until the 1930s. Early jug bands variously featured jugs, guitars, mandolins, banjos, kazoos, stringed basses, harmonicas, fiddles, washboards and other everyday appliances converted into crude instruments.

When the country blues moved to the cities and other locales, it took on various regional characteristics. Hence the St. Louis blues, the Memphis blues, the Louisiana blues, etc. Chicago bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters were the first to electrify the blues and add drums and piano in the late 1940s.

Today there are many different shades of the blues. Forms include:

 

Detroit Blues
Detroit blues is blues music played by musicians resident in Detroit, Michigan, particularly that played in the 1940s and 50s. Detroit blues originated when Delta blues performers migrated north from the
Mississippi Delta and Memphis, Tennessee to work in Detroit's industrial plants in the 1920s and 30s. Typical Detroit blues was very similar to Chicago blues in style. The sound was distinguished from Delta blues by its use of electric amplified instruments and a more eclectic assortment of instruments, including the bass guitar and piano. The biggest Detroit blues performer to achieve international fame was John Lee Hooker, as record companies and promoters have tended to ignore the Detroit scene in favor of the larger, more influential Chicago blues. The Detroit scene was centered on Black Bottom/Hastings Street, a Detroit neighborhood.

 

Delta Blues
The Delta Blues style comes from a region in the Southern part of Mississippi, a place romantically referred to as "the land where the blues were born." In its earliest form, the style became the first African American guitar-dominated music to make it onto phonograph records back in the late 1920s. Although many original Delta Blues performers worked in a string band context for live appearances, very few of them recorded in this manner. Consequently, the recordings from the late 1920s through mid 1930s consist primarily of performers working in a solo, self-accompanied context. Either way, Delta Blues form is dominated by fiery slide guitar and passionate vocalizing, with the deepest of feelings being applied directly to the music. Its lyrics are passionate as well and in some instances stand as the highest flowering of blues songwriting as stark poetry. The form continues to the present time with new performers working in the older solo artist traditions and style; it also embraces the now-familiar string-band/small-combo format, both precursors to the modern-day blues
band.

 

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Article from All Music Guide www.allmusic.com and reprinted with full credit to their efforts.

webmaster@detroitbluessociety.org

 

 

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Detroit Blues Society
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The Detroit Blues Society (DBS) is a registered federal 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, education, and advancement of the blues tradition, as it relates to the Metro-Detroit area. It has as its primary goals, to promote a wider appreciation for the Blues by the general public and to serve the members of the Society.