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A brief history of BLUES

                                                                              When you think of the blues, you think                                                                                 about misfortune, betrayal and regret.                                                                                   You lose your job, you get the blues. Your                                                                            mate falls out of love with you, you get the                                                                            blues. Your dog dies, you get the blues.

                                                                           While blues lyrics often deal with personal                                                                            adversity, the music itself goes far beyond                                                                            self-pity. The blues is also about                                                                                              overcoming hard luck, saying what you                                                                                  feel, ridding yourself of frustration, letting                                                                            your hair down, and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic, and starkly emotional. From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.


The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly African-American history. The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves – African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. It’s generally accepted that the music evolved from African spirituals, African chants, work songs, field hollers, rural fife and drum music, revivalist hymns, and country dance music. 













The blues grew up in the Mississippi Delta just upriver from New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. Blues and jazz have always influenced each other, and they still interact in countless ways today.

Unlike jazz, the blues didn’t spread

out significantly from the South to

the Midwest until the 1930s and ’40s.

Once the Delta blues made their way

up the Mississippi to urban areas, the

music evolved into electrified Chicago

blues, other regional blues styles, and

various jazz-blues hybrids. A decade

or so later the blues gave birth to

rhythm ‘n blues and rock ‘n roll.


No single person invented the blues, but many people claimed to have discovered the genre. For instance, minstrel show bandleader W.C. Handy insisted that the blues were revealed to him in 1903 by an itinerant street guitarist at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi. During the middle to late 1800s, the Deep South was home                                                                               to hundreds of seminal bluesmen who                                                                                   helped to shape the music.                                                                                                       Unfortunately, much of this original music                                                                             followed these sharecroppers to their                                                                                   graves. But the legacy of these earliest                                                                                   blues pioneers can still be heard in 1920s                                                                             and ’30s recordings from Mississippi,                                                                                     Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and other                                                                                       Southern states. This music is not very far                                                                             removed from the field hollers and work                                                                               songs of the slaves and sharecroppers. Many of the earliest blues musicians incorporated the blues into a wider repertoire that included traditional folk songs,

vaudeville music, and minstrel tunes.

Without getting too technical, most

blues music is comprised of 12 bars

(or measures). A specific series of

notes is also utilized in the blues. The

individual parts of this scale are

known as the blue notes. Well-known

blues pioneers from the 1920s such

as Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson,

Leadbelly, Charlie Patton and Robert

Johnson usually performed solo with just a guitar. Occasionally they teamed up with one or more fellow bluesmen to perform in the plantation camps, rural juke joints, and rambling shacks of the Deep South. Blues bands may have evolved from early jazz bands, gospel choirs and jug bands. Jug band music was popular in the South until the 1930s. Early jug bands variously featured jugs, guitars, mandolins, banjos, kazoos, stringed basses, harmonicas, fiddles, washboards and other everyday appliances converted into crude instruments.


                                                                     When the country blues moved to the cities                                                                        and other locales, it took on various regional                                                                        characteristics. Hence the St. Louis blues, the                                                                      Memphis blues, the Louisiana blues, etc.                                                                                Chicago bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker                                                                          and Muddy Waters were the first to electrify                                                                        the blues and add drums and piano in the late                                                                    1940s.

                                                                    Today there are many different shades of the                                                                      blues. Forms include:

                                                                   • Traditional country blues – A general term                                                                          that describes the rural blues of the                                                                                        Mississippi Delta, the Piedmont and other                                                                            rural locales;

                                                                  • Jump blues – A danceable amalgam of swing                                                                     and blues and a precursor to R&B. Jump blues                                                                     was pioneered by Louis Jordan;

• Boogie-woogie – A piano-based blues popularized by Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, and derived from barrelhouse and ragtime;

• Chicago blues – Delta blues electrified;

• West Coast blues – Popularized mainly by Texas musicians who moved to California. West Coast blues is heavily influenced by the swing beat.



dirty blues bistro a jojo montreal
Champs de cotton
route du blues road
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