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Sunday, 30 December 2012


Originally a blues was a song of sorrow, sung slowly to the accompaniment of piano or guitar. A blues is 12 measures long, and typically the first line is repeated.

Depending on whom you ask, the blues can be all kinds of things with all kinds of meanings. But the derivation of the phrase is clear: "the blues" comes to us from "the blue devils," a nineteenth-century mental affliction that the OED defines as despondency or spiritual depression. And even before that, British authors of the sixteenth century used to write of being in a "blue funk."

A blues tradition developed separately from that of jazz, but blues harmonies and the 12-measure form have always enriched the jazz tradition.

W.C. Handy's early hit blues song, "The Memphis Blues" was published in 1912. Handy was one of the first composers to incorporate the blues idiom into song forms and orchestrations.

By the mid-1930s Country blues was being replaced by Urban Blues. Artists like Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and Son House innovate what came to be known as Delta blues.

Many an early bluesman in the Delta made his first steps toward learning the guitar by nailing one end of a wire to a wall and playing the wire like a guitar string.

Robert Johnson was a pioneer in slide guitar and in bottleneck. His recordings never became big commercial successes but were influential in bringing Mississippi Delta-style blues into the mainstream.

Louis Jordan's 1942 song "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" was the first jump blues record.

After many black Americans moved from the rural South to Northern cities in the 1940s, Chicago became the center of blues recording. There a new kind of blues began to appear. It featured electrically amplified guitars, and even harmonicas, and drummers who emphasized afterbeats (beats 2 and 4 of each measure; nearly all blues are in 4/4 meter). The simplest boogie-woogie rhythms were the basis of Chicago blues.

Piano Red ("The Wrong Yo Yo", "Just Right Bounce", "Laying the Boogie") became in 1951 the first blues singer in history to appear on the pop charts. 

Blind Willie Johnson  (January 25, 1897 – September 18, 1945) was a blues guitarist who was blinded as a boy, abused by his father, and died penniless from disease after sleeping bundled in wet newspaper in a burnt down house. 

A revival of interest in Johnson's music began in the 1960s, following his inclusion on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music,  Carl Sagan preserved his legacy by selecting one of his songs , "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," for the Voyager Golden Record in 1977.

Sources, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc

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