Friday, July 6, 2018
The Blues and Heavy Metal, Part 1: The Rise of the Blues
[by MMB] In the 1800s the American musical forms that we now know as folk, gospel, blues, jazz and country are much less rigorously defined than the present day’s obsession with genre names. The music, of course, is very different from what we mean by those terms today. Interestingly, some researchers have pointed out that in the past there was no clear difference between the blues and country music, and that the blues and country music as labels are marketing tools reflecting the racism of the day, meaning that the blues is an advertising category used for selling music to Blacks, while country music is used for marketing to Caucasians. In the first half of the twentieth century the term “race” records refers to music performed by Blacks and marketed to Black people. In the history of the blues the African-American musician and composer W.C. Handy, known as the Father of the Blues, has a very important role in popularizing the blues, and for his tireless work as an advocate of the blues as an art form worthy of study and respect. By his own account, Handy, a travelling musician, first heard the blues in 1903 in Mississippi while waiting for a train. Soon he would write his own version of blues songs. In the twentieth century the blues goes through a series of major changes so as to make a strict definition very difficult; nevertheless, already by the 1920s the blues is a style and some recordings are characterized by the particular term in the titles. Blues historians often cite Mamie Smith’s 1920 performance of “Crazy Blues”, written by Perry Bradford, as a key moment in bringing the blues by Black women to mass audiences. According to historians, the first superstar of the blues is Bessie Smith, who is considered to be one of the most popular blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s, and is known as the Empress of Blues, while the nickname Mother of the Blues is reserved for Ma Rainey, another very popular singer of an era which saw many Black women experience success as performers. Mamie Smith - Crazy Blues (1920) Bessie Smith (Down Hearted Blues, 1923) Jazz Legend Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey - Bo-Weavil Blues In the 1920s the blues is big business and some experts have remarked that the Black “songsters,” the traveling musicians of the day, who perform ballads and popular songs of that time switch to the blues because they see that it is there that the money and opportunities are. Soon there are many songsters making blues music. In the 1920s Blind Lemon Jefferson from Texas and Arthur Blind Blake (probably from Florida) are some the early stars of solo blues performers that play their guitar and sing. It is said the Great Depression of the 1930s has negative effects on the blues performers and the sale of blues music, but that does not mean the death of the blues. The historians underline the role of the Mississippi Delta as a crucial place for the blues to the due the quantity of blues performers, and researchers have had a fascination with the region as a place where many blues performers could be found. A musician from the area that stands out in the 1920s and early 1930s is Charley Patton, considered the Father of the Delta Blues. Patton is said to have been generous with his skills, and he hands down his knowledge to younger, up-and-coming blues musicians who look up to him. Then there’s the mythical figure of Robert Johnson, whose early death at the age of 27 or so, in 1938 has been the subject of debate and speculation. Johnson is a musician whose talents have been extolled by many blues and rock musicians decades later. Blind Lemon Jefferson-Long Lonesome Blues Charley Patton - Pony Blues Robert Johnson - Come on in My Kitchen In 1940s we will see big changes in the blues. That is the subject of part 2.