Blues

The blues is a low-down, aching chill; if you ain't never had 'em, honey, I hope you never will.
Son House

Blues, aka El Big Grandaddy of Rock & Roll, is a term used to denote a musical genre, but it has become slightly genericized and it can also be used to describe musical works that don't belong to that genre but evoke aspects of it.

To Make a Long Story Short: The blues was largely created by African-American communities in the Deep South, following emancipation. The blues evolved from musical styles specific to those communities, such as spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, and chants, by shifting the focus from the group to the individual. The first published blues song was "Dallas Blues" by Hart Wand, in 1912, although there are reportedly older songs. The genre then went on to split into many, many subgenres according to location, giving rise to:

  • Country blues
  • Urban blues
  • Piedmont blues (relying on ragtime-based fingerpicking techniques)
  • Memphis blues (much more danceable, influenced by jug bands)
  • Boogie-woogie

and others.

While "blues" originally referred to any and all secular music made by black Americans, it eventually became a heavily codified genre, largely thanks to Trope Codifier Robert Johnson. Some elements which you'll find in most blues songs are:
  • The twelve-bar chord progression
  • Licks and solos in the pentatonic scale, with heavy use of "blue notes" (the flattened third, fifth and seventh of the associated major scale)
  • "Shuffle" or "swing" rhythm rather than "straight" rhythm (explained in this video)
  • Lines of lyrics that are repeated twice (often with a 'you know' or 'oh, Lord!' thrown in the second time), then followed by another line which rhymes with it and isn't repeated
  • Lyrics about lost love, poverty, and "hard times" in general, often full of Stock Phrases like 'woke up this morning' or 'wring my hands and cry'.

The most important development in the genre was the appearance of electrified blues in The Fifties, with its stronghold in Chicago. Electric blues, as represented by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon and others, was one of the first genres to adopt electric guitars and the classic guitar-bass-drums lineup, paving the way for the future appearance of Rock & Roll. Jazz is another genre which developed out of the blues. In fact, most popular music as we know it today — from Soul and Funk to Heavy Metal — ultimately derives from the blues, the exception being Electronic Music. As Willie Dixon put it, "The blues is the roots, the rest is the fruits."

Another form of the genre appeared in The Sixties - Blues Rock.

Blues performers: