Trying to keep this A to Z challenge going — maybe just getting it started — has been about as hard as my efforts to become a runner. I don’t really think I had expected to be stuck with the second letter of the alphabet; that said, I have lots of ideas for other letters and I’ve started writing some of those posts already. But what to do with B. Should I try to come up with some pithy thematic link? Should I attempt an ironic post related to the letter? I’ve settled on keeping it simple. I’ve got lots of opportunity in the coming weeks to become more complicated. I’m still at the beginning of this journey so why not look at a musical form that directly influenced much of the music to be discussed throughout this series. It’s time for the Blues!
Hold it! What does a guy who grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa, Canada really know about the Blues. To be honest, not much; however as a music lover, teacher, and lifelong learner, my discovery of musical forms is ongoing. And with regard to the Blues, the notion that influence is everything hods especially true. Like many people, the Blues were present in various forms of music I listened to over the years, but it was the year I spent working with Barry Bickerton that I learned more about the blues than ever before. Barry often spoke about his love of the Blues, especially Delta Blues; he recommended music, he played it before morning classes to get kids moving in the halls, he even has his own band Barry and the Blasters. Without a doubt, my appreciation of the blues has been made greater because of Barry. I owe him a debt of gratitude for helping move me down this musical path — “a whole lot of Elmore, heavy on the James!”.
While this 5 song set may seem simplistic or elementary, I hope it serves a starter for other people interested in learning about the Blues. I’ve tried to find videos that showcase the brilliance of the musicians, as well as some of the artists who they influenced. Also there are some challenges finding videos of some of the earliest Blues performers. Thus, essential suggestions such as Robert Johnson and Champion Jack Dupree have not made this list, but neither have more modern acts like Stevie Ray Vaughn as there is no way I can possibly hope to create a definitive list of essential Blues artists here, but I have included a list of resources for further investigation. That said, I encourage anybody who wants to learn about the blues to seek out the music of these two musicians.
When people think of the blues, I suspect one of the first names that comes to mind isd B.B. King. And why not? He’s been around since the 1950’s. He’s played with numerous artists, including recent duets and collaborative efforts — most notably his 2000 album with Eric Clapton Riding With The King that saw him back on the charts with the title track. But to really get a sense of B.B. King, his 1965 Live At The Regal album is a must.
One of the true great Blues musucians, Howlin Wolf “was a ferocious, full-bodied singer whose gruff, rasping vocals embodied the blues at its most unbridled.” (See more at: http://rockhall.com/inductees/howlin-wolf/bio/#sthash.Jy21Afh1.dpuf ). He was part of the Chess Record label, and his musical influence was heard in top acts of hte 1970’s and beyond. To get a good sense of his influence, check out the album The London Howlin’Wolf Sessions.
A Delta Blues musician who emulated musicians such as Son House and Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters used his electric guitar to move his style of blues into the main stream. Another of the great blues musicians whose influence can be linked to the Rolling stones and AC/DC, Muddy Waters is another to check out.
After B.B. King, this may be one of the first Blues muscians I had ever heard of. A true cross-over musician whose music seems to have been accepted by all sorts of music lovers. His aggressive style of the blues clearly influenced ealry rock and toll acts, but also hip-hop and pop musicians too.
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2015, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band “converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James.” (See more at: https://rockhall.com/inductees/the-paul-butterfield-blues-band/bio/#sthash.wvuv7kQY.dpuf). This racially diverse band crossed over various musical stykes to bring the Blues to music lovers throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, however their influence continues today.
Bonus #1 — The Grammy’s salute to the Blues
A star studded line-up of Blues musicians (and a very young Billy Crystal as host).
Bonus #2– Everything is a Remix “The Song Remains the Same”
Researcher, documentary maker Kirby Ferguson shows in his “Evrerything is a Remix” series how art and other pop cultyre is reimaged and repurposed by others to create new and exciting artistic forms. Check out episode #1 “The Song Remains the Same” to see the influence on the Blues on popular music.
http://research.culturalequity.org/audio-guide.jsp (the Alan Lomax Resewearch Center)
http://youtu.be/HIrx3M5aLL0 (Son House, Mike Bloomfield, and Paul Butterfield discuss and pay the Blues)
As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions for improvement and for new music.
Until next time.