BLUES MUSIC STYLES
There are many different musical styles, historical backgrounds and terms we use while trying to talk about blues music and blues dancing. Below is a list adapted from the PBS: The Blues describing some simple definitions of blues classifications to give you an historical background to the muscial styles.
This should help you become better educated and aware as a dancer, a musician, a DJ, and as a teacher.
VINTAGE should only refer to a chronological timeline, not a style. If it's vintage, it should be old. But how old? The earliest documentation of the muscial style was in the early 1910s. And in 1914, the first recorded was the song "St Louis Blues" by W.C. Handy performed by Bessie Smith. Then the biggest transformation of Blues took place in the 1950s as Jump Blues/R&B transformed into Rock & Roll and established itself as the dominant popular music. It is safe to say that pre-1950s is a safe date.
TRADITIONAL refers to a past style or even an era, but is not classified by a date in and of itself. Traditional blues can be vintage blues, but there are many young “Traditional artists” that record today (thus they are not “vintage”). Think of the adjective “traditional blues” as being true to the original style – like traditional Chicago or Texas Blues might be acoustic for instance, even though they later became electric blues idioms. Many people use “Traditional” to generally refer to an early form or style of Blues like Delta Blues, Piedmont (finger picking) blues or early country blues – but this should not reflect the date of the recording itself. Examples of “modern traditional” musicians are Keb’ Mo’, Eric Bibb, and Taj Mahal.
~ SOURCE: Greg Avakian, PBS, Jeff Miller, et al.
BLUES GLOSSARY - Musical Styles
Boogie-woogie refers to a particular style of jazz/blues piano, typically played at a rapid tempo, in which the left hand maintains a repeated rhythmic and melodic pattern in the bass and the right hand handles improvised variations in the treble. Arising most likely in the Midwest around the beginning of the 20th century, it spread widely in blues circles during the 1920s, gaining its name for posterity with the 1928 recording "Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie," by Clarence "Pinetop" Smith. Through the 1930s and 1940s, elements of boogie-woogie, particularly its repetitive blues bass lines, became integral components of big-band jazz, and would in later years form an important foundation of jump blues and early rock 'n' roll.
What is now referred to as the classic Chicago blues style was developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, taking Delta blues, fully amplifying it, and putting it into a small-band context. Adding drums, bass, and piano (and sometimes saxophones) to the basic string band and harmonica aggregation, the style created the now standard blues band lineup. The form was (and is) flexible to accommodate singers, guitarists, pianists, and harmonica players as featured performers in front of the standard instrumentation. Later permutations of the style took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with new blood taking their cue from the lead-guitar work of BB King and T-Bone Walker, creating the popular West Side subgenre (which usually featured a horn section appended to the basic rhythm section). Although the form has also embraced rock beats, it has generally stayed within the guidelines developed in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Country blues is a catchall term that delineates the depth and breadth of the first flowering of guitar-driven blues, embracing solo, duo, and string band performers. The term also provides a convenient general heading for all the multiple regional styles and variations (Piedmont, Atlanta, Memphis, Texas, acoustic Chicago, Delta, ragtime, folk, songster, etc.) of the form. It is primarily—but not exclusively—a genre filled with acoustic guitarists, embracing a multiplicity of techniques from elaborate fingerpicking to the early roots of slide playing. But some country-blues performers like Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker later switched over to electric guitars without having to drastically change or alter their styles.
The form is dominated by either an acoustic guitar or fiery slide guitar and passionate vocalizing, with the deepest of feelings being applied directly to the music. Its lyrics are passionate as well, and in some instances remain the highest flowering of blues songwriting as stark poetry. The form continues to the present time with new performers working in the older solo artist traditions and style.
The Delta blues style comes from a region in the southern part of Mississippi, a place romantically referred to as "the land where the blues was born." In its earliest form, the style became the first black guitar-dominated music to make it onto phonograph records back in the late 1920s. Although many original Delta blues performers worked in a string-band context for live appearances, very few of them recorded in this manner. Consequently, the recordings from the late 1920s through mid-1930s consist primarily of performers working in a solo, self-accompanied context.
Electric blues is an eclectic genre that embraces just about every kind of blues that can be played on an amplified instrument. Its principal component is that of the electric guitar, but its amplified aspect can extend to the bass (usually a solid body Fender type model, but sometimes merely an old "slappin''' acoustic with a pickup attached), harmonica, and keyboard instruments. Stylistically, the form is a wide-open field, accessible to just about every permutation possible— embracing the old, the new, and sometimes the futuristic. Some forms of it copy the older styles of urban blues (primarily the Chicago, Texas, and Louisiana variants), usually in a small-combo format, while others head into funk and soul territory. Yet electric blues is elastic enough to include artists who pay homage to those vintage styles of playing while simultaneously recasting them in contemporary fashion. It is lastly a genre that provides a convenient umbrella for original artists of late 1940s and early 1950s derivation that seemingly resist neat classifications.
Field hollers are a class of rural African American vocal performance performed by an individual (as opposed to a group) while engaged in manual labor, and unaccompanied by any instrument. Folklorists documenting the music in the early portions of the 20th century first used the term, although field hollers were in existence before that time. Field hollers are generally slower and much less rigid in musical form than group work songs, combine lyrical phrases common to the community with individual interpretations and improvisations, and are most often lamenting or sorrowful in subject matter. Because they established and expanded a musical tradition of individual expression and common lyrical phrases, field hollers are considered an important antecedent of the blues form.
With a likely origin in Louisville, Kentucky, in the early part of the 20th century, jug bands employed an array of homemade and found instruments such as kazoo, washtub bass, and whiskey bottle, as well as banjo, harmonica, or guitar. Particularly fashionable in Memphis, jug bands played up-tempo popular, vaudeville, and blues numbers for both black and white audiences, and accompanied blues musicians from that era, many of whom were also members of the ensembles, both live and on recordings. Some jug band performers remained active in the region until the 1970s, most notably Gus Cannon.
Jump blues refers to an up-tempo, jazz-tinged style of blues that first came to prominence in the mid- to late 1940s. Usually featuring a vocalist in front of a large, horn-driven orchestra or medium-sized combo with multiple horns, the style is earmarked by a driving rhythm, intensely shouted vocals, and honking tenor saxophone solos-all of those very elements a precursor to rock 'n' roll. The lyrics are almost always celebratory in nature, full of braggadocio and swagger. With less reliance on guitar work (the instrument usually being confined to rhythm section status) than other styles, jump blues was the bridge between the older styles of blues— primarily those in a small band context-and the big-band jazz sound of the 1940s.
A looser, more laid-back, and percussive version of the Jimmy Reed side of the Chicago sound, Louisiana blues has several distinctive stylistic elements to distinguish it from other genres. The guitar work is simple but effective, heavily influenced by the boogie patterns used on Jimmy Reed singles, with liberal doses of Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters thrown in for good measure. Unlike the heavy backbeat of the Chicago style, its rhythm can be best described as "plodding," making even up-tempo tunes sound like slow blues simply played a bit faster. The production techniques on most of the recordings utilize massive amounts of echo, giving the performances a darkened sound and feel, thus coining the genre's alternate description as "swamp blues."
A strain of country blues all its own, Memphis blues gives the rise of two distinct forms: the jug band (playing and singing a humorous, jazz-style of blues played on homemade instruments) and the beginnings of assigning parts to guitarists for solo (lead) and rhythm, a tradition that is now part and parcel of all modern day blues-and rock 'n' roll-bands. The earliest version of the genre was heavily tied to the local medicine show and vaudeville traditions, lasting well into the late 1930s. The later, post-World War II version of this genre featured explosive, distorted electric-guitar work, thunderous drumming, and fierce, declamatory vocals.
NEW ORLEANS BLUES
Primarily (but not exclusively) piano and horn-driven, New Orleans blues is enlivened by Caribbean rhythms, an unrelenting party atmosphere, and the "second-line" strut of the Dixieland music so indigenous to the area. There's a cheerful, friendly element to the style that infuses the music with a good-time feel, no matter how somber the lyrical text. The music itself uses a distinctively "lazy" feel, with all of its somewhat complex rhythms falling just a hair behind the beat. But the vocals can run the full emotional gamut from laid-back crooning to full-throated gospel shouting, making for some interesting juxtapositions, both in style and execution.
Piedmont Blues refers to a regional sub-style characteristic of black musicians of the southeastern United States. Geographically, the Piedmont means the foothills of the Appalachians west of the tidewater region and Atlantic coastal plain stretching roughly from Richmond, VA, to Atlanta, GA. Musically, Piedmont blues describes the shared style of musicians from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, as well as others from as far as Florida, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. It refers to a wide assortment of aesthetic values, performance techniques, and shared repertoire rooted in common geographical, historical, and sociological circumstances; to put it more simply, Piedmont blues means a constellation of musical preferences typical of the Piedmont region.
The Piedmont guitar style employs a complex fingerpicking method in which a regular, alternating-thumb bass pattern supports a melody on treble strings. The guitar style is highly syncopated and connects closely with an earlier string-band tradition, integrating ragtime, blues, and country dance songs. It's excellent party music with a full, rock-solid sound. It is common to hear the guitar playing similar sound of the old time piano ragtime music by playing "note" then "chord".
Piano blues runs through the entire history of the music itself, embracing everything from ragtime, barrelhouse, boogie woogie, and smooth West Coast jazz stylings to the hard-rocking rhythms of Chicago blues. Piano blues refers to a variety of blues styles that are structured around the piano as the primary musical instrument. Boogie woogie is one of the best known styles of piano blues. Swing, R&B, rock and roll and jazz are strongly influenced by blues piano. Notable blues pianists include Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Dr. John, and Ray Charles.
Slide is a method of playing guitar where the player uses either a tube placed over the finger (such as a "bottleneck") or a flat edged object (such as a knife blade) to press down the strings of the guitar. The resulting sound wavers and fluctuates, and can include tones that cannot be reached in the conventional manner, where fingers are used to depress the strings. Blues slide guitar originated in the Mississippi Delta region, and is integrally associated with early electric blues, particularly as developed by Muddy Waters in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
A geographical subgenre earmarked by a more relaxed, swinging feel than other styles of blues, Texas blues encompasses a number of style variations and has a long, distinguished history. Its earliest incarnation occurred in the mid-1920s, featuring acoustic guitar work rich in filigree patterns-almost an extension of the vocals rather than merely a strict accompaniment to it. This version of Texas blues embraced both the songster and country-blues traditions, with its lyrics relying less on affairs of the heart than other forms. The next stage of development in the region's sound came after World War II, bringing forth a fully electric style that featured jazzy, single-string soloing over predominantly horn-driven backing. The style stays current with a raft of regional performers primarily working in a small-combo context.
The term has two pervasive definitions. Originally, it was used to describe the more sophisticated sentiments of the style in contrast to the more rural style of country blues. As time went on, it also came to describe blues music whose lyrics captured city life, its opportunities as well as its grim realities.
WEST COAST BLUES
More piano-based and jazz-influenced than anything else, West Coast blues is—in actuality—the California style, with all of the genre's main practitioners coming to prominence there, if not actual natives of the state. In fact, the state and the style played host to a great many post-war Texas guitar expatriates, and their jazzy, T-Bone Walker style of soloing would become an earmark of the genre. West Coast blues also features smooth, honey-toned vocals, frequently crossing into urban blues territory. The West Coast style was also home to numerous jump-blues practitioners, as many traveling bands of the 1940s ended up taking permanent residence there. Its current practitioners work almost exclusively in the standard small-combo format.
A probable root of the blues, work songs were extensively documented by folklorists during the early portions of the 20th century, although their roots arguably go as far back as West Africa. Work songs help synchronize the rhythm of group tasks, with a single leader calling out a line that is then copied or responded to by the group (see "call and response"), typically in time with their work motion (e.g., chopping with an axe or digging with a shovel).
BLUES GLOSSARY - Geographical Terminology
Named for the dynasty that ruled France when New Orleans, Louisiana, was founded in the early 1700s, Bourbon Street has ever since been one of the major streets of the city's "French Quarter." With increasing tourists and military visitation during the 1920s and 1930s, Bourbon Street began establishing its current reputation as an all-hours destination for food, drink, and entertainment, and its clubs have thus served as an important musical "school" for city musicians of many genres, particularly blues and early R&B.
More than a mere geographical distinction, the early British blues of the late 1950s and early 1960s paid strict adherence to replicating American blues genres, with an admiration for its originators bordering on reverence. But by the time of the blues revival of the mid-1960s, British guitarists-mainly led by Eric Clapton-were starting to bend the form to create their own amalgam. Wedding the string-bending fervor of the BB, Albert, and Freddie King styles to the extreme volume produced by large amplifiers, British blues largely coalesced into blues-rock, with formerly traditional blues artists like the Rolling Stones and Clapton becoming rock stars. The British style has perhaps the closest ties to rock music as opposed to rock 'n' roll, a distinct stylistic descendant of the 1950s. It is this constant shift between preserving older styles and mainstreaming it into the pop marketplace that is the hallmark of British blues.
THE GREAT MIGRATION
The Great Migration was a mass movement during the first half of the 20th century, during which millions of African Americans from primarily rural locations in the Southern United States moved to urban locations, particularly in the North. The migration occurred in two major waves, each centered around the World Wars, during which a great need for industrial workers arose in Northern (and later Western) cities. Although this promise of reliable employment attracted many, as did the hope for living conditions that were better and less oppressive than those in the South, it was not always found. However, the cultural impact of the Great Migration upon those who moved, and the cities to which they moved, was and continues to be dramatic.
Running from La Place, Louisiana to Hurley, Wisconsin, Highway 51 is now largely supplanted by Interstate 55. However, prior to that road's construction, 51 was a frequent metaphor in blues songs, particularly from the Mississippi Delta region, the eastern edge of which it borders as it connects Jackson to Memphis. Mentions of 51 frequently connoted "rambling," both around the Delta region and beyond, as well as joining the Great Migration northwards for a new life.
Levee camps arose throughout the post-Civil War South as large numbers of manual laborers (typically African American) were gathered, sometimes by force, to build and maintain systems of earthen levees that held rivers in their channels, thus making more farmland available and (theoretically) minimizing the hazards of annual flooding. Frequent locations of group work-song singing and solo field hollers, they were notoriously difficult and violent places to make a living. They were natural destinations, as well, for traveling musicians, who sought the money of workers enjoying their fleeting and hard-earned pay.
From the early 1900s until its relocation in the mid-1990s, the weekend open-air market along Chicago's Maxwell Street was a frequently changing urban milieu where one could find everything from used and new merchandise, to food, religion, and live music. It was a particularly important location for new immigrants to the city seeking employment, entertainment, and the familiarity of customs and people from "back home."
Conventionally, oral culture is understood to mean any and all traditions that are sustained within and between generations strictly through the spoken (as opposed to written) word, such as stories, tales, and songs as told by a Griot (see above).
With the exception of a few years during the depression, the "Panama Limited" was, during the first half of the 20th century, the most luxurious of the Illinois Central's trains running the route from New Orleans to Chicago. The Illinois Central was a very popular manner in which to head North during the Great Migration.
Formally known as the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the Parchman Farm was opened in 1904 and, until federally mandated reform in the 1970s, was geared primarily towards the profitable production of cotton using convict labor. With little emphasis upon rehabilitation, it had a solid reputation for deplorable and brutal living and working conditions. A frequent image in blues songs from the surrounding Delta, both among musicians who did time there and those who did not, it was also a frequent destination in the mid-20th century for folklorists recording work songs and related traditions in an effort to trace the development of the blues.