THE ORIGINS OF BLUES MUSIC

Out of the Delta The story of the Blues began in northwestern Mississippi in the late 1800’s. It was initially a folk music popular among former slaves living in the Mississippi Delta, the flat plain between the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers. With the Great Migration of black workers that began around that time the Blues spread…

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I DESERVE THE CREDIT

Blues players have always borrowed and adapted other people’s tunes and lyrics. Some would call this ‘artistic transmission’, but other people call it stealing. Sometimes they players even stole each other’s names! In a time and place where there was little regard for copyright, players would always copy each other’s styles and swap phrases, although…

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DELTA BLUES

The Mississippi Delta is the fertile alluvial plain that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers in the north-west of the State. Highway 61 runs from Memphis to Vicksburg through the heart of the land. The rich soil needs little irrigation, and the farms and plantations produce cotton, corn and a myriad other crops. In…

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LONESOME WHISTLE- THE BLUES HARP

The harmonica was invented in 1829 by Charles Wheatstone, who called his instrument the Aeolina. It was commercially developed in Germany in the 1850s by the Hohner Company, which still dominates production today. It is known in the UK as the ‘mouth-organ’ or colloquially the ‘gob iron’, but in the USA it is called the…

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PIEDMONT BLUES

Blind Blake To most people the term ‘East Coast’ conjures up sophisticated images of New York, Washington or New England, but the Blues has its roots in the warmer soil further south where the tobacco grows. The respected Blues writer Bruce Bastin coined the phrase Piedmont Blues to describe the music from the coastal plain…

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THE THREE KINGS OF BLUES

While they didn’t establish the genre B.B., Albert and Freddie King are without a doubt the biggest names in Blues, and while they are no longer with us today their influence continues to be felt to this day. But are the Three Kings of Blues all related to each other? You’d be surprised to found…

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THE DEATH OF BESSIE SMITH

It is 3a.m. in the middle of a sultry, moonless Saturday night in late September 1937. A Packard car is cruising south down Highway 61 in Coahoma County, Mississippi. At the wheel is Richard Morgan, a well-known Chicago club owner and ex-bootlegger: the passenger is his girlfriend Bessie Smith. She is still a star of…

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MEMPHIS

Memphis gave birth to Rock’n’roll in the 50’s and in the 70’s it was known as Soulsville USA, but before WWII, Memphis was the centre of the Blues world. Situated on the Mississippi river, just above the Delta, it was a port and a railhead as well as a rich cotton town, which made it…

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RECORDING THE BLUES

“Thank God for recording. It’s the best thing that’s happened to us since writing” Keith Richards. ‘Life’ C.2010. Keef was right. Recording is a paradigm shift on a parallel with the rise of literacy. Before recording, music was only available to those within earshot of the musicians. Troubadours would carry their tunes around the region,…

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BOOM, BOOM. BRITISH BLUES

In 1962, four guys from Liverpool were playing R&B tunes in the Star Club and the Indira Club on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg’s red light district. They played mostly covers of black American music they had copied from records brought back from the USA by merchant sailors returning to Liverpool. They adapted and incorporated this…

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BLUES AT THE CROSSROADS

The Summer of Love swept a warm wind of change through the music industry in 1967. When the Beatles issued Sargeant Pepper then disappeared to India with their guru, it seems everyone was wafted away in a psychedelic haze. When the acid wore off at the end of the 60s, Rock music was in quite…

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AMERICAN EXPORTS

British audiences in the 50’s didn’t have much exposure to the Blues. During the 30s, some dance bands had played jazz and swing-based repertoire, but when American servicemen came to London in 1944, the clubs around ‘Rainbow Corner’ in the West-End were suddenly bouncing to the sound of ‘jump-Blues’. For the first time Young Brits…

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CHICAGO BLUES

The Blues was born in the Delta and grew up on its journey from the country to the city, but the place it came of age was Chicago. When Muddy Waters got off the train from Mississippi in 1942, he soon noticed two things. First, he was going to need an electric guitar turned up…

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WEST COAST BLUES

California is not the place you expect to find the Blues. It does not reek of the murderous working conditions of Chicago‘s killing floor, the hardscrabble existence of sharecroppers in the Delta, or the relentless dehumanision of production lines in Detroit and a hundred other industrial cities. In fact, the low numbers of Black Americans…

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RACE MUSIC

Blues, jazz, R&B, funk, rap and hip-hop are all examples of the Black music that helped to shape our culture today, but this music grew and developed in a historical context. From the beginning of the 20th Century, African music’s rhythms and tradition of improvisation have dominated popular music, but in the early days this…

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THE ZOOT SUIT

A Zoot Suit is a baggy, but well tailored, matching jacket and pants. The coat is long and flared, usually reaching down to the knee, with a high waistline, wide lapels, broad padded shoulders and a big pleat in the back. The pants are high-waisted too, but cut extremely generously in the leg before tapering…

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Rev. J M GATES

When the ‘race music‘ industry was getting into its stride in the mid-20s, a surprising number of records were not secular Blues or vaudeville songs, but religious recordings. While the ‘Blues Divas’ and country songsters provided the secular output, the sacred side was dominated by Gospel singers,  ‘hell-fire preachers’ and ‘guitar evangelists’. Blind Willie Johnson…

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THE EALING CLUB

In 1959, The Ealing Jazz Club was a basement room opposite Ealing Broadway station, and it was reached by descending steep narrow stairs to an alley that leads out into a suburban street. On the left is a doorway that became a portal to the British R&B that re-invigorated the Blues and spread it to…

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ALAN LOMAX at STOVALL’S PLANTATION

In the summer of 1942, Alan Lomax was travelling through the Mississippi Delta, recording examples of local folk music as part of his job as Assistant Archivist for the Library of Congress. In this work, he was following in the footsteps of his father John A Lomax, and together they contributed a huge catalogue of…

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‘FROM SPIRITUALS to SWING’ – JOHN HAMMOND Sr.

In 1938, the ‘Spirituals to Swing’ Concert at Carnegie Hall in New York celebrated the contribution that African-American musicians had made to popular American culture over the previous decades. The Blues had grown up in the South as a folk music which documented the hard life of sharecropping field hands. It remained in the Delta,…

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FIFE & DRUM MUSIC

Fife and drum music is a branch of country Blues that has survived from the 19th Century in a few remote rural districts of northern Mississippi. With modest home-made instruments and a simple structure, it is neverthless a joyful music, made for dancing and sharing with friends and neighbours, from a time when time itself…

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THE PETRILLO BAN

Trumpeter James C Petrillo had already been President of the Chicago Local 10 chapter of the American Federation of Musicians since 1922, when he was elected National President in 1940. Soon afterwards, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) wanted to re-negotiate the royalty rates their members were paid when their work was…

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CONGO SQUARE

Congo Square, on Rampart Street in New Orleans, is a place of special significance for lovers of modern American music. A statue of ‘Satchmo’ stands in what is now called Louis Armstrong Park, near the Municipal Auditorium, and this location is the birthplace of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Back in the 50s,…

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PIANO BLUES

The piano has been at the heart of Blues music from the earliest days, but unlike the ‘wandering songsters’ with a guitar or a harp in their hand, Blues pianists had to rely on whatever instrument they could find to play their music. Most juke-joints, brothels, bars and drinking dens had some kind of beaten…

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THE GREAT MIGRATION

It took a long time for The Blues to move from its rural heartlands to the big cities of America and from there out across the world, but it took that journey embedded in the memories and emotions of the people who loved the music. Fifty years after the end of the Civil War and…

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GOSPEL MUSIC

The roots of Gospel music are buried deep in the 18th Century, when the African culture of slaves in the American South met with the Christian faith of the white population. The Church was keen to save the Souls of the Oppressed, but afraid of any exclusively black assembly becoming a focus for rebellion, so…

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TEXAS BLUES

Texas has long been a fertile source of Blues music, and it continues to uphold that tradition, but there is a difference between the early days and the present. What we know today as ‘Texas Roadhouse Blues’ is typically a boogie-heavy dance music that sprang from a long tradition of live music in bars. Austin…

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Blues Shouters

The term ‘Blues Shouter’ means something more than the sum of the two individual words. It is true that most Blues Shouters belt out their songs at constant full volume, with very little regard for vocal dynamics. But to really qualify for the title, a performer also has to project a fervour and energy into…

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HOKUM BLUES

‘Hokum’ is a term applied to a kind of raunchy Blues song that was popular in the late 20s and early 30s in America. The lyrics on some of those records that sold in their hundreds of thousands were quite explicit in their references to sexual practices, prostitution, homosexuality and other things which would scare…

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The British Invasion.

The United States and Britain have enjoyed (or endured) a ‘Special Relationship’ for a long time. After that Revolutionary War nastiness, we have pretty much remained ‘two nations separated by a common language’, and on the subject of War, we usually end up on the same side. During the sixties, however, there was a lot…

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