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This page helps provides lovers of Blues
music with interesting information. For
Diatonic or Chromatic Harmonicas
September 10, 2004
Interesting Weekend Plus article on
Mark Hummel - a well know blues
September 8, 2004
Interesting article on the death of Arthur
Dixon, son of blues great Willie Dixon
From "Michelle" of
Jason, you've gotten some good advise here but I
hate to send you away with
"go find out for yourself", even though it ~is~ the best way to learn about
the blues. So, I'll take a quick shot at giving you something a little
concrete to start you off on your blues quest. Please note that this will
be a simplified version so I will skip lots of details on my way to
highlighting the most important points as I see them.
First of all, blues is a feeling. I know that sounds trite but it is true.
That is why you are having such a difficult time identifying it. But, the
"blues feeling" comes out of certain essential elements of blues music as a
form. Knowing where and how blues began is helpful to someone trying to
find it. It grew largely out of African work chants that had been
transferred and adapted to the new and horrendous situations that African
slaves found themselves in the early 1800's of the southeastern US. There
are three essential elements of black slave work chants: 1) a strong beat 2)
a "call and response" format and 3) use of a flatted fifth tone--commonly
called the "blue note" (which you must know a little bit about music theory
to appreciate). The black crewleader on railroad gang or in a cotton field
would issue the "call", chanting a phrase to which the crew members would
answer with their "response", all to a strong beat applied by stepping or
stomping, shovel and dirt, hammer and stone, or the like. The crew leader
would often call at least partly in the "blue note", which gave rise to
tension that was relieved by the response of the crew. The slaves used
these chants to pass the time and generate community spirit in order to
survive in extremely difficult conditions. Blues music grew directly from
these black work chants and retained their key characteristics, as listed
As blues music matured from the simple acoustic style of the lone Delta
bluesman to the electrified ensemble of Chicago blues, a pattern similar to
that of the work chants remained prominent. If you denote the "call"
with an "A" and the response with a "B", the call-response pattern was most
often A-A-B, and sometimes A-B-A, or A-B-B. So the "call" phrase is often
repeated twice and then resolved by the "response" phrase. Another
characteristic of a prototypical blues tune is the I-IV-V chord sequence
which is played in time with the lyrics as they are sung. That "blue note"
is often used by the singer or guitar soloist to accentuate the musical
tension in the call that is relieved by the response, in a cyclic fashion,
so that the song repeats the A and B phrases along with the I-IV-V
progression. All this is to a strong beat that is often accentuated on the
"off-beat" by the drummer and/or the other instruments. Accentuating the
off-beat enhances the tension of the song, too. Blues isn't supposed to be
a "comfortable" music. That's part of the feeling--the tension and its
Instruments frequently take or augment the "call" and "response" roles of
the lyrics and supply the basic I-IV-V chordal progression and beat. Along
with the vocalist, the guitar often functions as the instrument issuing the
"call" and the other instruments act in the "response" role. The harmonica
is often the primary "response" instrument, augmenting and highlighting the
lead singer and/or guitar player. Sometimes in the hands of a particularly
strong player, the harp can become the "calling" or lead instrument.
Walter and Rice Miller are good examples in the time period I am about to
suggest that you study. In any case you can still easily identify the
pattern of the lyrics and instrumentals.
Jason, with these characteristics in mind, listen closely to your blues
CD's, and try to identify the lyrical or instrumental patterns I've
mentioned, particularly with earlier blues songs (say 1920-1960). Once
you've been able to recognize these features of blues songs, listen to other
songs on your CD's for certain of these elements, but where the songwriter
has not adhered strictly to the 3 basic elements I've outlined and
eliminated one or more. You will note a similar "feeling", often typified
by use of that "blue note" and the tone and lyrics of the songs. That's
"blue's feeling" I mentioned at the top of this message. The blues can be
broken down into sub categories besides Delta and Chicago blues
styles--Piedmont, Texas, California, etc. But most of them share these
common building blocks in one form or another. Blues is blues is blues.
Because I know the building blocks of a blues song and can identify that
"blues feeling", I hear blues in many other musical genres--country, rock,
pop, even bluegrass. When you learn to recognize more of the anatomy of a
blues song, you will, too. Blues is the basic "root music" of the US and
helped give rise to or played an important role in the development of much
of the folk and popular music that followed.
Jason, have fun with the blues, they 'posed to make ya feel better! Works
PS: If you are interested in learning more about the blues, contact me
off-list and I will send you a little bibliography so that you can further
your reading. One book I can recommend to everyone interested in Delta
blues and their role in creating Chicago blues is "The World Don't Owe Me
Nothing", the recently published Honeyboy Edwards' autobiography. It's a
gem of a first-hand account of a Delta and Chicago bluesman who knew 'em all
in the golden ages of blues music's migration from the cotton fields of the
south to the industrial cities of the north.
||Zulu musicians, c.1900.
A post card sent to Keith Summers by Christoph Wagner (of Klang Records).
(Note the harmonica player...)
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