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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 '50s, 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 '60s - Blues Rock.


Blues performers:

  • Barbecue Bob
  • Blind Blake (a hugely influential ragtime guitarist)note 
  • Blind Boy Fuller (the first really successful acoustic bluesman)
  • Eric Claptonnote  - Guitarist who earned the nickname "God" in The '60s, and is still considered one of the best guitarists in rock. His solo material starting in The '70s is way lower on the Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness.
    • From The Cradle was Clapton's first true, grits and all blues album. He did another one in 2004, Me and Mr. Johnson as a tribute to the man (see below).
  • Rebecca Ferguson: Not to be confused by the actress of the same name.
  • Reverend Gary Davis (blind Baptist minister)
  • Bo Diddley (a key player in the transition from electric blues to rock and roll)
  • Willie Dixon (the greatest blues songwriter of all time, especially during the early electric era; wrote most of Howlin' Wolf's material)
  • Marianne Faithfull: From the late 1970s and 1980s on she reinvented herself as a jazz and blues singer.
  • Samantha Fish: Guitarist/singer from the 2010s who primarily plays blues, with occasional forays into roots rock, country, or R&B.
  • Buddy Guy (the big blues guitarist of the '60s in America, as well as one of the pioneers of "heavy" electric blues guitar; had a big impact on Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton). He continues to tour to this day.
  • Jeff Healey
  • John Lee Hooker (one of the few to smoothly transfer his Delta style to the electric guitar; notable for his one-chord songs and his "talking" vocal style)
  • Son House (excellent early slide guitarist, though perhaps most famous for teaching Robert Johnson)
  • Mississippi John Hurt
  • Howlin' Wolf (one of the many fine artists contracted to Chess back in the day, notable for a voice you could sand with; also notable for being smart and avoiding the common pitfalls that afflicted blues artists, namely alcohol abuse, gambling, sketchy girlfriends, and bad business decisions)
  • Hozier (rare modern example)
  • Elmore James (one of the first great electric slide guitarists, popularised Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom")
  • Skip James
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson (another blind bluesman, apparently had a habit of wearing spectacles if the publicity photo is to be believed)
  • Blind Willie Johnson (also a blind Baptist minister)
  • Lonnie Johnson (one of the first blues guitarists to go electric)
  • Robert Johnson (the guy who was rumoured to have sold his soul to the devil for talent, one of the most influential blues musicians ever)
  • Tommy Johnson (popularised the crossroads myth before Johnson; also, Canned Heat took their name from a song of his)
  • Albert King (another pioneer of heavy electric guitar; his solos were revolutionary for their day)
  • B.B. King (one of the finest blues guitarists ever)
  • Lead Belly (Nirvana's favourite)
  • Ma Rainey (the first female blues singer, if not the first blues singer, periodnote , had a big influence on Bessie Smith and others)
  • John Mayall: Founded the Bluesbreakers, the "finishing school for British blues guitarists". Nearly every British blues player you've ever heard of was a Bluesbreaker at some point.
  • Blind Willie McTell (one of the great blind bluesmen, notable for his distinctive voice and Piedmont style)
  • Memphis Minnie (the first great female blues guitarist...)
  • Charlie Patton (arguably the first great recorded Delta bluesman)
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Jimmy Reed (the most popular bluesman of the 50s, with one of the simplest and most easily approachable bodies of work in blues)
  • Nina Simone
  • Bessie Smith (...and the first great (arguably) female blues singer)
  • Taj Mahal
  • Little Walter (former Muddy Waters associate, one of the great harmonica players of the blues, and of all music)
  • Booker T. Washington 'Bukka' White (slide guitarist, cousin of B.B. King)
  • Muddy Waters (another Chess artist, had a massive influence on electric blues, perhaps most famous these days for the "Hoochie Coochie Man" riff)
  • Johnny "Guitar" Watson: Best known for "Space Guitar", "Gangster Of Love" and "A Real Mother For Ya".
  • John Zorn
  • Jimmie Rodgers definitely incorporated blues in his country music style

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