The Blues
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The Blues. Work Songs devised in the United States in the 1600’s plantations and prisons told a simple story heavy accents call-response good work-song leaders were in demand. The Blues Time Line. Country (or Rural) Blues: 1890 - 1930 (most active period) City Blues:

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The Blues

  • Work Songs

    • devised in the United States in the 1600’s

      • plantations and prisons

    • told a simple story

    • heavy accents

    • call-response

    • good work-song leaders were in demand


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The Blues Time Line

  • Country (or Rural) Blues:

    • 1890 - 1930 (most active period)

  • City Blues:

    • 1912 - 1941 (most active period)

  • Rhythm and Blues:

    • 1948 - present (most active period)

  • Rock and Roll:

    • 1952/3 - present (most active period)


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Country Blues

  • blues is the root and foundation of jazz

  • country blues were developed at the same time as the work song

  • earliest blues songs were sung by itinerant male singers in the South and Southwest

  • informal, unrestrained, improvised

  • songs were basic:

    • sex

    • love

    • poverty

    • death


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Country Blues

  • developed into a 12-measure (bar) format containing 3 equal phrases (ABA)

  • 5 major characteristics of Country Blues

    • 1. Unsophisticated lyrics and uncomplicated chords

    • 2. Uses blue notes and personal inflection in the vocal line

    • 3. Free from any traditional rhythmic restrictions

    • 4. Relies on only a few harmonies per verse

    • 5. Conveys a feeling of simplicity and personal identity


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Blues Characteristics

  • Unsophisticated lyrics and uncomplicated chords

  • blue notes

    • bending notes away from their original pitch

    • based on African tonal scales

    • fundamental blues scale contains only 7 notes

  • singers also growl, slide, swallow the sound

  • freedom from traditional rhythmic restrictions

  • take many liberties with the rhythm

  • add or drop a beat

  • Free to sing as the lyrics move the singer


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Blues Characteristics

  • pronounced harmonic and textural repetition

    • repetition gives the blues its solid structure

    • the three chords (I-IV-V) creates three equal phrases

    • 1st phrase introduces a statement

    • 2nd phrase repeats

    • 3rd phrase answers the first two

    • three phrases combine to make one verse

  • feeling of simplicity and personal identity

    • vocal inflections (fills between phrases)

    • often called primitive or undeveloped

    • Technique still used by Ray Charles and B. B. King


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“Hellhound on my Trail”Intro to Jazz disc 1 track 2

  • I got to keep movin’. Blues fallin’ down like hail.

  • I got to keep movin’. Blues fallin’ down like hail.

  • I can’t keep no money with a hellhound on my trail.

  • If today was Christmas eve, and tomorrow Christmas day,

  • If today was Christmas eve, and tomorrow Christmas day,

  • I would need my little sweet rider just to pass the time away.

  • You sprinkled hot-foot powder all around my door.

  • You sprinkled hot-foot powder all around my door.

  • It keeps me with a ramblin’ mind, rider, every old place I go.

  • I can tell the wind is risin’, the leaves tremblin’ on the tree.

  • I can tell the wind is risin’, the leaves tremblin’ on the tree.

  • All I need is my little sweet woman to keep me company.


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Robert Johnson1912 (?) - 1938


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Robert Johnson1912 (?) - 1938

  • born in Copiah County, Mississippi

  • Mother: Julia Majors; Father: Noah Johnson

  • Mother already had 9 children by her husband, Charlie Dodds

  • known as Johnson, Dodds or Spencer

  • grew up near Robinsonville, Mississippi

  • attracted to blues musicians

  • played blues harp (harmonica)


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Robert Johnson1912 (?) - 1938

  • learned guitar in six months (bargain with devil?)

  • played “slide” (broken bottle)

  • teamed up with Johnny Shines for two years

  • 1936; Earnie Oertle, American Record Company

  • five recording sessions - 29 blues masterpieces

  • received several hundred dollars

  • dies in 1938, poisoned, age 26


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City Blues

  • 12-bar format

  • beginnings in minstrel and vaudeville shows

  • sung from a stage

  • accompanied by other performers

  • sung mostly by women

  • refined and sophisticated


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Sparse, usually a single guitar

Quite free

Earthy, dwelling on hardships of the downtrodden

Undeveloped, but highly expressive

Several instruments and/or piano

Rigidly controlled by 12-bar structure

Sophisticated, mature observations on love, verses carefully constructed to fit rhythm and meter

Refined and carefully considered material

Country Blues City Blues


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“St. Louis Blues”

  • blues dialogue

  • a distant relative of call and response

  • Bessie Smith sings verse

  • Armstrong plays background and fills

  • vocal part is written out

  • fills are improvised

  • somewhat different than usual 12-bar blues

    • 12 - 12 - 16 - 12 (AABC)

  • no rhythm instruments - no drums or bass


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“St. Louis Blues”

  • .00 Introduction of one chord

  • .05 1st chorus, 1st phrase: vocal

  • .15 Cornet answers and continues as accompaniment, filling after each phrase

  • .20 2nd phrase: relaxed lay-back style

  • .35 3rd phrase: completes 12 measures; the fill is built on an expanding interval

  • .50 2nd chorus, 1st phrase: same melody, dialogue continues; the cornet helps define the harmony and supplies the rhythm between the vocal phrases

  • 1.32 3rd chorus, 1st phrase: new chord progression

  • 1.46 2nd phrase

  • 2.00 3rd phrase

  • 2.14 4th phrase: completes 16 measures

  • 2.36 4th chorus, 1st phrase: cornet harmonizes with the vocal part, voice becomes more aggressive, using a slight throat-growl effect

  • 3.05 end


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Bessie Smith (1894? - 1937)


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Bessie Smith(1894? - 1937)

  • born April 15, 1894 or 1898

  • discovered by Lonnie and Cora Fisher or Ma Rainey

  • made 160 phonograph records between 1923 - 1933

  • thought by John Hammond to have been the greatest American Jazz ArtistJohn Hammond


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Bessie Smith

(1894? - 1937)

  • father died when she was very young, mother when she was 9

  • sang on street corners to support the family

  • age 18 professional dancer

  • met Ma Rainey - the “Mother of the Blues”

  • moved from chorus to featured singer

  • vaudeville and minstrel for 11 years

  • booked by the Theater Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA)


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Bessie Smith

(1894? - 1937)

  • first records produced by Frank Walker

  • Walker headed Columbia Records “race” department

  • recorded “Down-hearted Blues” and “Gulf Coast Blues” in 1923 - sold 780,000 copies in 6 months

  • contract with Columbia for $20,000 per year

  • made $2500 per week for personal appearances

  • 1923 married Jack Gee


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Bessie Smith

(1894? - 1937)

  • 1928-1930 career on the downslide

    • economy

    • talking movies

    • blues not as popular

    • TOBA folded

    • voice deepened and roughened

  • 1930 contract with Columbia cut in half

  • 1931 dropped by Columbia

  • left Gee and moved in with Richard Morgan


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Bessie Smith

(1894? - 1937)

  • easily converted to the new swing style

  • great back-up musicians

    • Jack Teagarden (trombone)

    • “Chu” Berry (saxophone)

    • Benny Goodman (clarinet)

  • died on Sept. 27, 1937 in Clarksdale, Miss. following a car accident

  • buried in an unmarked grave in Sharon Hill, Penn.

  • in 1970 a marker was placed (paid for by Janis Joplin, John Hammond and others)



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Ma Rainey1886 - 1939

  • born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett in Columbus, GA

  • cabaret singer

  • husband, Pa Rainey, member of Rabbit Foot Minstrels

  • recorded for Paramount in 1923

  • one of the most popular city blues vocal stylists

  • no recordings after 1930

  • died in Rome, GA 1939



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The Blues Continues

  • interest began to decline in 1935

  • served as basis for

    • rhythm and blues (R & B) 1940’s

    • rock ‘n’ roll 1950’s

    • rock groups 1960’s and 1970’s

    • recent country western, fusion and contemporary gospel styles

  • Human misery continues to be the theme

  • boosted in the 1950’s and 1960’s by Chuck Berry and Fats Domino as well as The Drifters, Bill Haley, and Elvis


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Muddy Waters1915-1983


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Muddy Waters 1915-1983(McKinley Morganfield)

  • born in Rolling Fork, Miss. April 4, 1915

  • played harmonica and sang

  • discovered by Alan Lomax

  • first recordings for the Library of Congress and later for the Aristocrat label

  • his recording “Rollin’ Stone” inspired Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” which led to the naming of the British rock group and the title of a periodical

  • not able to make the transition to pop



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B. B. King 1925 -

  • the musician who most influenced rock guitarists

  • Riley B. King (“Blues Boy”)

  • “Lucille”

  • cannot sing and play at the same time

  • call-response technique

  • most famous disciple is Eric Clapton

  • video