Blues music is shrouded in a veil of legend and lore. Recognised as one of the only forms of music that originated in the United States, blues can be traced back as far as the 1860s through word of mouth. The term "the blues" was first used by Washington Irving in 1807. Blues music has been an integral part of American culture that is still evident in music today.
Origins of Blues Music
The origin of blues music is found in the U.S. It is essentially a hybrid of African and European music, conceived in the Southern U.S. by slaves. What began as "call and response," a form of music sung by slaves while working in the field, developed into a form where the "call" was the guitar and the "response" was the singer. Traditionally, blues music is played in 4/4 time and consists of 12 bars, with lyrics taken from daily life.
The "Father of the Blues"
W.C. Handy was born in 1873 in Alabama. His song, "Memphis Blues," was the first blues song to be commercially published, in 1912. He later went on to publish a number of blues compositions in the years that followed. He is credited with organising the first blues performance at Carnegie Hall in 1928. Handy's role in bringing blues music to the public earned him the title of "Father of the Blues".
Types of Blues Music
There are four main types of blues music styles. Delta Blues began in the Mississippi delta areas and is the original style of blues. Chicago Blues introduced electric instruments to the blues sound, as well as microphones for vocals and amplifiers. Texas Blues is nearly identical to Chicago Blues in instruments but has a Texan flair not found in Chicago. Blues Rock is the youngest style, beginning in the 1960s. Influenced by Delta and Chicago Blue. Artists of this style included the Rolling Stones, The Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
In 1950, Aristocrat Records became Chess Records. Owned by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, the studio was located in Chicago, Illinois. The number of blues "greats" signed by Chess Records is staggering. Their roster listed notable artists such as, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon (also a producer), Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Etta James and many more. Chess Records continued through the 1960s but was sold in 1969.
The "Mother of the Blues"
Gertrude Pridgett was born in 1886. Her family performed in a minstrel show, and by 1900, she made her first appearance onstage. When she married in 1902, she became Ma Rainey. She and her husband continued to perform in various minstrel shows throughout the South. Their shows usually included a couple of blues numbers. In 1923, she signed with Paramount Records and recorded 100 songs between 1923 and 1928. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues."
The Devil and Robert Johnson
No other blues musician is more shrouded in mystery and intrigue than Robert Johnson. He was born in 1911 in Mississippi. When he first played the guitar for Son House and Willie Brown, they told him that he should stay with playing harmonica. He returned a short time later (1930) to play guitar for them again and surprised them by exhibiting skills that were greater than their own. It was then that the rumour began that Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil.