I’ve talked to many people; many different people. I’ve talked to musical prodigies, I’ve talked to musical wannabes, and I’ve talked to people who couldn’t keep a beat if their life depended on it. I’ve talked to young and I’ve talked to old, I’ve talked to the wealthy and I’ve talked to the…not so wealthy. All these people I have talked to, and each and every one of them has one thing in common. For all these people, the music they listen to has derived from the Blues somewhere down the line. Some of these people don’t listen to the Blues, and some of these people don’t even know what the Blues is, but they sure have a lot to thank the Blues for! Because the Blues gave them what they have! The Blues gave them modern day music.
I can almost grantee that the music you listen to was, at one point, the Blues. In fact, every genre and sub-genre of music, except of course the music of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras, is probably somehow connected to the blues. Whether you listen to Punk or Pop, Rock or Rap, it all started with the Blues! So, to better understand this concept, we have to start from the very beginning, with the birth of the Blues.
First of all, what is the Blues? Well, to make it brief, the Blues is both a musical form and a musical genre. It was created primarily within the African-American communities in the “deep south” of the United States (the deep south being Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina). It is dated back to the end of the 19th century, with the first publication of Blues sheet music being in 1912. The concept of the Blues started before that though.
Unfortunately, the origin of the Blues is rather melancholy. In fact, the term “the Blues” refers to the “blue devils”, which means melancholy and sad. The lyrics in early Blues music was often used to describe depression. Now, as I said before, the first publication of Blues sheet music was in 1912, but the concept started with the African-American slaves, dated back to around 1890. Sadly, this date is rather broad, as very little was documented due to racial discrimination, and the Blues could have possibly been born even sooner, in 1860. The Blues spawned from African-American work song and “field hollers”. These were songs that the African-American slaves would chant while picking cotton to pass the time. So, you can easily understand why the Blues has rather depressing lyrics; I wouldn’t be singing about sunshine and rainbows if I were picking cotton!
Once musicians caught wind of these field hollers, they went with it, and chroniclers began to report about Blues music in the Deep South. One of the first men to declare having heard the Blues was Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, who stated he had first heard the Blues in New Orleans in 1902. Musicians of the early 1900’s took the Blues, and started crafting it into their own creation. Forms like the “twelve-bar blues” were born, and the African-American creation began to industrialize. The field hollers began to sub-divide and evolve, to become what we now know as “the Blues”.
The Blues of the early and mid 1900’s was different then the original African-American work songs. There was now instrumentation, as opposed to A capella field hollers. There was now the twelve-bar blues, and the infamous “AAB” lyric pattern. Sub-genres were being born, such as “Boogie-woogie” music and Delta Blues. The Blues had modernized, and become what we recognize as the Blues today. This modernized Blues music was the seed that sprouted to become musical genres such as Jazz, R&B, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, all of which will be looked at in latter parts of this series of articles. The Blues has brought us many great musicians and recordings, from the early recording of Robert Leroy Johnson in the 1920’s, to greats like B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn. The Blues is truly the father of modern day music.
So, that’s it; now you know what the Blues is and how it started. So, how is this relevant to modern day music? Well, being the first form of “modern music” in the 20th century, it derived into many different form of music. One of the first derivative forms of the Blues will be observed in part two of this series. Yes, that’s right, part two will focus on…Jazz!