Some might have different stories or theories on how or when the Blues Music was started, in my opinion, it started from the black slaves, working for the white plantation owners in America. Most of these songs included working chants, call and response, field hollers, and gospel hymns. After slavery was abolished, there was still a high level of racism and prejudice. Blues musicians could sing and perform their stories of hard times to their peers.
Some of the earliest well-known blues musicians included Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Robert Johnson. These musicians were pioneers in the late 1890’s to 1920s. Robert Johnson’s story of a blues musician became popular in a unique way. The story says that he was an average blues guitarist/singer and would get booed off stage. A short time later he returned and had an amazing talent to sing and play the blues. Other blues musicians were confused and jealous of his newly acquired talents. People believed that he went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil to become the best blues musician in the world. To this day, there are only three known photographs of Robert Johnson. He had used open guitar tunings and played with a bottleneck slide. Back then, guitar players would use the beer bottle neck or even a knife to slide on the strings to make a unique blues song. Some of his common open guitar tunings were open G and open E. His songs became blues staples and were covered countless times by upcoming legends such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Howlin’ Wolf and many more. Robert Johnson died at the age of 27 in 1938. He was allegedly killed by a jealous husband of a woman who had flirted with Robert Johnson. Eric Clapton and his band, Cream, performed their arrangement of “Crossroads” by Robert Johnson, and released the song in 1968. Cream’s version of the song introduced an amazing take on the old blues song, incorporating blues and a new style of blues inspired rock or classic rock to the world. It introduced many people around the world to the style of blues music including Robert Johnson.
Back in the early days of blues music, the genre was still not very popular among many people beyond black people. There was still a lot of segregation and racism in America at the time, so blues bars were for only black people, commonly called juke joints. Chess Records is one of the popular record labels that recorded music pioneers such as Chuck Berry, The Four Tops, Johnny Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Otis Rush and many more. Check out the 2008 movie, “Cadillac Records,” which is about the blues music and record label during this time around the 1940’s.
Starting around the 1950’s, Willie Dixon wrote over 500 blues songs that became staples for many blues and classic rock songs. His songs have been performed by traditional blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Koko Taylor, BB King, and Buddy Guy. His songs have also been covered by more mainstream artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Doors. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, George Thorogood, Aerosmith, and Tom Petty.
Thanks to small blues record labels in the 1940s and 1950s such as Chess Records, blues records could be distributed around the world. Blues music was still not popular or well known to many white people in the USA. Some musicians such as Elvis and The Beach Boys started copying and imitating blues guitar riffs and progressions into their music. There were also some white people in Europe that loved the blues music from the USA. Some of those artists included Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles. Some of them admitted that they were obsessed with learning these new sounds and tones to add it to their musical vocabulary. This was known as the British invasion, which brought amazing music, influenced by black blues musicians from the USA. This made the American Blues music more popular to white people in America. In the 1960’s, more American people started becoming influenced by blues music such as Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and The Allman Brothers.
By the 1970’s, these blues influence evolved into more electric guitar tones, louder music, more rock and roll, which evolved into classic rock and blues/rock genres. Some of these musicians/bands included Cream, Eric Clapton. ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Foghat. More traditional blues musicians during these decades included Albert Collins, Albert King, BB King, Muddy Waters, and Freddie King.
In the last decade or two, there has been many great contemporary blues musicians keeping the blues alive. Some of them include Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo, Derek Trucks, Kenny Wayne Sheperd, Bernard Allison, Warren Haynes, and Tab Benoit. Some of the older blues legends still alive today include Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and Eric Clapton.
Currently in the year 2021, there has been a new generation of blues musicians and contemporary blues inspired musicians to continue to keep the blues flame burning. Some of my favorites include Gary Clark Jr, Eric Gales, Joe Bonamassa, Larkin Poe, Jack Broadbent, G Love, and Justin Johnson.
Playing a minor note in a major scale was a wrong note in music until the blues genre. Blues incorporated many minor notes including the minor pentatonic scale and the blues scale, which includes the minor 3rd, 5th, and 7th. Also, by taking the flatted 7th or flatted 3rd, blues musicians would give it a very slight bend, which would also give it more of the blues notes. They also incorporated slides and bends on the guitar strings which incorporated more of a blues vocal emulation. Guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix would tune their strings down a half step so there would be less string tension, making it easier for them to do more string bends. You can hear this in songs such as “Smoke Stack Lighting” and “Whole Lotta Love.” The “Hendrix Chord” made popular by Jimi Hendrix is an E7#9 chord. It was also known as a wrong chord forever until he made it sound great. It’s the main root chord in his song “Purple Haze” and played many times by him and other musicians since then.
Eric Clapton talks about his tone and trying to emulate a woman’s voice in this interview in 1968
“Cross Road Blues” Originally recorded and written by Robert Johnson in 1936
“Crossroads” Recorded by Eric Clapton and Cream in 1968. This is an amazing example of how they took this song to a new level. It added more electric energy and shined a bigger light on this song, the story, and introduced the song to the entire world.
“I’m a Man” Written and performed by Bo Diddley in 1955, inspired by “Hoochie Coochie Man,” written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Muddy Waters in 1954. “Mannish Boy” also written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Muddy Waters as an “answer song” to “I’m a Man.” In 1982, George Thorogood recorded “Bad to the Bone” which was inspired by the above songs. He also recorded other blues songs and referencing the “Bo Diddley Beat.” Some blues songs have a 12-bar blues progression, like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” but the other mentioned songs stay on the root chord for the entire song, which is very dramatic, powerful, and adding a strong back beat on the 2 and 4 beats.
This is one of my songs called "Mess Around." I recorded it on my hand-made oil can guitar which I call (Hayburner Guitars.) I used the old school call and response style in the intro, using a slide on the strings, responding to the vocals of Tony Cuchetti, then turned it into an upbeat 12 bar blues progression.
“Baby Please Don’t Go” written and recorded by 1935 Big Joe Williams. The song is thought to be inspired by “Long John” a chain gain song with call and response, sang by black workers and prisoners.
When slavery was abolished, it was still legal to have slaves, if the person broke the law. It was extremely common for white people to wrongly accuse black people of crimes so they could legally make them slaves. This led to countless innocent black people being wrongfully accused and being sentenced to slavery again.
Notice the lyrics,
“I believe there's a man done gone, I believe there's a man done gone
I believe there's a man done gone to the county farm, with a long chain on”
“Baby Please Don’t Go” covered by Lightnin’ Hopkin, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy.
This video shows a performance of Muddy Waters performing the song in 1981 with some members of the Rolling Stones coming up on stage to pay tribute to the blues legends.
“Texas Flood” was written and performed by Larry Davis in 1958.
Stevie Ray Vaughan covered the song in 1983 and it became his most popular staple song. He added an intense mix of power, aggression, blues, and soul to this legendary blues standard.
Check out this interview of SRV
“Stormy Monday” T-Bone Walker’s song in 1947. This staple song is slightly jazzier in the chord progression but still remains a blues staple today. More popular is the recorded version by the Allman Brothers.
“I just want to make love to you” written by Willie Dixon, first recorded by Muddy Waters in 1954. Covered by Etta James in 1961 and Foghat in 1972. This is another amazing example how the song evolves over time. Muddy’s version was full of power, testosterone, with not many instruments. Etta James adds more instrumentation, more female power, seduction, and total confidence. Foghat added the 1970’s classic rock vibe, popularizing this song and brining it to a bigger global audience.
“I can’t Quit you Baby” Written by Willie Dixon, originally performed by Otis Rush in 1956, Led Zeppelin covered it in 1969. By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, many white musicians such as Led Zeppelin were covering these blues songs, adding the classic rock and blues/rock vibe, adding overdrive to guitars, and turning the volume and energy up!
“Statesboro Blues” written and recorded by Blind Wille McTell in 1928. Referencing the city in Georgia, he played this song on a 12-string acoustic guitar. The Allman Brothers performed this song with their bigger band live in 1971, adding many key elements of blues, blues/rock, and southern rock, including slide guitar, hard stops, and overdriven guitar solos.
The Allman Brothers also covered “One Way Out” at the Fillmore East in 1971. This has become one of their most popular songs and well deserved. Notice the soulful, blues, vocal ending at the end of the song with the blues turn around.
“Sweet Home Chicago,” another popular blues staple, covered countless times by musicians. The evolution starts with original composer, Robert Johnson, playing a 12-bar blues progression on slide acoustic guitar. Foghat ads more of their classic rock signature sound, then watch the other video clip with many guitar legends including Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, and Robert Cray.
“You Shook Me” written by Willie Dixon and originally performed by Muddy Waters, has been covered by Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin. Another classic example of an excellent blues standard, added with the power and fame of Led Zeppelin, to make it a globally recognized song. Led Zeppelin pays more tribute to blues in this song by adding an organ, harmonica, and of course many great blues guitar solos with overdrive. Towards the end of the song, they incorporate a great blues inspired call and response, between Robert Plant’s vocals and Jimmy Page’s guitar
One of my favorite contemporary blues/rock players, Gary Clark Jr
I got to watch Jack Broadbent perform and hang out with him a couple years ago. Such a cool guy, awesome voice, and amazing slide with his flask.
I love how the Black Keys takes blues pentatonic scales, makes it into fun contemporary rock, simple and effective. Plus their music video is this guy dancing the whole time, awesome!
Best guitar duel, damn! Joe Bonamassa and Eric Gales
Probably one of my favorite performances I've seen on youtube, I'll leave you with this, Mr Eric Gales
Thanks for reading. I would be interested to hear what is your theory on the evolution/creation of blues music? Have any cool blues content to share?