Blues is the original American sound that gave birth to Rock and Roll, combining influences from the spirituals of the Deep South, traditional African, and European, folk music.
The term “The Blues,” has an interesting, if somewhat unclear, history. One idea comes from Britain in the 1600s that described “blue devils” as intense visual hallucinations that accompany severe alcohol withdrawal. Another theory comes from a one-act farce from 1798 called Blue Devils, that used the term to describe melancholy and sadness. By the 1800s, in the United States, “having the blues” alluded to the personal consequences of the “blue law” which prohibited buying alcohol on Sundays.
Maybe I should have tried a career in The Blues because as a musician, now living a life in the recovery world, I have driven across state lines on many a Sunday – back when Minnesota law was still living in 1800s.
“Listen to the different parts going on in the song. Let your ear walk with the bass and your feet shuffle with the groove. Ponder what the songwriter was going through when they penned the tune”
One of the greatest sounds in blues music are the “blue notes” also know as “worried notes.” The worried notes have the power to tug at the heart. A musician doesn’t have to hit a lot of notes to create feeling, but they do have to hit the right ones. Of course, I don’t mean the correct notes but the ones that hit you smack dab in the middle of the chest.
Blues music often repeats many of the same lyrical lines, as if trying to get a point across, or who knows, maybe just because of that dang “blue devil.” The Blues is usually accompanied by a shuffle or, my favorite, the walking bass guitar.
I cannot write about The Blues without mentioning the legend, Robert Johnson. His story has created such a lasting impression.
The story goes that the young Robert Johnson set out to meet Satan at the crossroads to make a deal — extraordinary talent for the price of his soul. Legend has it that after that night he was untouchable. He lived a short life of major success with just 29 recordings and is known to be one of the greatest influences on the creation of Rock and Roll.
Johnson died at the age of 27, the first of the Rock and Roll club gone too soon. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse joined him later. They say, the devil gets his due. When you hear anything about selling a soul for rock and roll, they’re talking about Robert Johnson.
Which brings us to North Mankato’s Blues on Belgrade this weekend.
When you go, take a moment to listen to the different parts going on in the song. Let your ear walk with the bass and your feet shuffle with the groove. Ponder what the songwriter was going through when they penned the tune. Challenge your ear to hear the “worried notes” and see if you can pick up on the AAB rhyme scheme. Or picture yourself as young Robert Johnson walking to the crossroads to sign away your soul.