The origins of blues is not unlike the origins of life. For many years it was recorded only by memory, and relayed only live, and in person. The Blues were born in the North Mississippi Delta following the Civil War. Influenced by African roots, field hollers, ballads, church music and rhythmic dance tunes called jump-ups evolved into a music for a singer who would engage in call-and-response with his guitar. He would sing a line, and the guitar would answer.
From the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, and the platform of the Clarksdale Railway Station, the blues headed north to Beale Street in Memphis. The blues have strongly influenced almost all popular music including jazz, country, and rock and roll and continues to help shape music worldwide.
The Blues... it's 12-bar, bent-note melody is the anthem of a race, bonding itself together with cries of shared self victimization. Bad luck and trouble are always present in the Blues, and always the result of others, pressing upon unfortunate and down trodden poor souls, yearning to be free from life's' troubles. Relentless rhythms repeat the chants of sorrow, and the pity of a lost soul many times over. This is the Blues.
And B.B. King is an examplary example of what the blues have evolved into. Born in Mississippi, King's earliest interest in music came from the church, which is where he learned to sing gospel music. After being taught a few chords on the guitar by the minister of his church, King's interest started to extend beyond just singing. He began listening to guitar-playing bluesmen more intently and was moved by the jazz guitar work of Charlie Christian. As a young man King was a Mississippi Delta farmhand and tractor driver, working the fields during the week and playing music on weekends.
Waters was born into a Mississippi Delta sharecropping family in 1915. His mother died when he was three, and he was raised by his grandmother, who lived on Stovall's Plantation, just outside Clarksdale. Waters got his nickname as a child because he loved to play near a muddy creek. He learned how to sing out in the cotton fields, where, as a youth, he worked for fifty cents a day. When he was a young boy, perhaps seven or eight, Waters learned how to play the harmonica. He didn't learn how to play guitar until he was seventeen. Not long afterwards, he began to perform at house parties and fish fries with friends Scott Bohannon (or Bowhandle) and Henry "Son" Simms. Impressed by the deep blues sounds that Delta bluesman Son House drew from his guitar, Waters built his style from what he saw and heard House play. Later, Waters would also borrow guitar ideas from Robert Johnson.
But before getting to far into blues, we need to look at jazz and where it's roots began.
The music called Jazz was born sometime around 1895 in New Orleans. It combined elements of Ragtime, marching band music, and Blues. What differentiated Jazz from these earlier styles was the widespread use of improvisation, often by more than one player at a time. Jazz represented a break from Western musical traditions, where the composer wrote a piece of music on paper and the musicians then tried their best to play exactly what was in the score. In a Jazz piece, the song is often just a starting point or frame of reference for the musicians to improvise around. The song might have been a popular ditty or blues that they didn't compose, but by the time they were finished with it they had composed a new piece that often bore little resemblance to the original song. Many of these virtuoso musicians were not good sight readers and some could not read music at all, never the less their playing thrilled audiences and the spontaneous music they created captured a joy and sense of adventure that was an exciting and radical departure from the music of that time. The first Jazz was played by African Americans and Creole musicians in New Orleans. Buddy Bolden is generally considered to be the first bandleader to play the improvised music which later became know as Jazz. He was the first "King" of cornet in New Orleans, and is remembered by the musicians of that time period as one of the finest horn players they had ever heard. He is remembered for his loud, clear tone. His band starting playing around 1895, in New Orleans parades and dances, and eventually rose to become one of the most popular bands in the city. In 1907 his health deteriorated and he was committed to a mental institution where he spent the remainder of his life.
Mentioning Buddy Bolden we would be remiss if we did not mention Jelly Roll Morton. Jelly Roll Morton was was the first great composer and piano player of Jazz. He was a talented arranger who wrote special scores that took advantage of the three-minute limitations of the 78 rpm records. But more than all these things, he was a real character whose spirit shines brightly through history, like his diamond studded smile. As a teenager Jelly Roll Morton worked in the whore houses of Storyville as a piano player. From 1904 to 1917 Jelly Roll rambled around the South. He worked as a gambler, pool shark, pimp, vaudeville comedian, and as a pianist. He was an important transitional figure between ragtime and jazz piano styles. He played on the West Coast from 1917 to 1922 and then moved to Chicago and where he hit his stride.
Louis Armstrong was the greatest of all Jazz musicians. Armstrong defined what it was to play Jazz. His amazing technical abilities, the joy and spontaneity, and amazingly quick, inventive musical mind still dominate Jazz to this day. Only Charlie Parker comes close to having as much influence on the history of Jazz as Louis Armstrong did. Like almost all early Jazz musicians, Louis was from New Orleans. He was from a very poor family and was sent to reform school when he was twelve after firing a gun in the air on New Year's Eve. At the school he learned to play coronet. After being released at age fourteen, he worked selling papers, unloading boats, and selling coal from a cart. He didn't own an instrument at this time, but continued to listen to bands at clubs like the Funky Butt Hall
Big Bill Broonzy was born into a Mississippi sharecropping family. Young Broonzy had learned the rudiments of the fiddle before his family moved to Arkansas and by age fourteen, he was working for tips at country dances and picnics. Bill served in the Army during World War I. After his discharge, he returned to Arkansas and farming only to decide that he wanted to make his living as a singer and guitar player.
Big Bill recorded as a solo performer and played on hundreds of other sessions during the course of his long recording career. Broonzy's brand of blues stretched from ragtime-influenced and hokum blues to solo acoustic country blues, from city blues backed with jazz musicians to traditional folk blues and spirituals. Broonzy influenced many young bluesmen; often he took artists of lesser stature under his wing and helped them secure recording sessions and performance dates.
Robert Johnson is one of the most celebrated figures in blues history. Although he died when he was just twenty-seven years old, his impact on blues culture and blues mythology, as well as his influence on the development of blues guitar styles, has been substantial to say the least. According to the myth, Johnson obtained his amazing guitar skills by selling his soul to the Devil. (That Johnson wrote songs about the Devil and explored in his music the fight of good against evil strengthened the myth, which endured after his death and grew larger as the years passed.) Aside from this Faustian explanation, we know little about how Johnson came to acquire his compelling skills, as both a songwriter and guitarist, in such a remarkably brief time. Having been born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi the influence the river had on him is quite clear. He grew up with all the hymnals, and spirituals, etc... that have been so important for other blues and jazz musicians that have grown up on the river.
The links i'm putting in will provide the interested viewer with a wealth of information on jazz, blues and their linkage to the artists and the Mighty Mississippi.
2. http://www.pbs.org/jazz/ This is the link to the site about Ken Burn's Jazz. A truly terrific documentary.
4. http://www.pbs.org/riverofsong/ ****** This an examplary link, this is a perfect example of how the river and music blend together.
5. http://www.tulane.edu/~lmiller/JazzHome.html I am the president of the Bruce Raeburn fan club. I LOVE BRUCE!!!!
8. http://www.stlouisblues.com/ *** no, no, no!!!!! This is a hockey link...I was just seeing how smart you were.
11. http://www.deltablues.com/ Mudcat Cafe...very good site :)
12. http://nfo.net/.WWW/JOA.html Informative, gives some history on Jazz.
13. http://www.bbking.com/ oh yeah, riding with the king!
14. http://www.edsite2.fsnet.co.uk/Charles%20Buddy%20Bolden.htm All about Buddy
15. http://www.doctorjazz.freeserve.co.uk/page10.html Whatever you wanted to know about the pimp daddy Jelly Roll Morton and then some.
16. http://www.satchmo.net/index1.html Louis Armstrong....
17. http://www.deltahaze.com/johnson/ The name of this site is delta haze....does that mean smoking crack in the delta? or is it just about Robert Johnson? hmmmmm....
18. http://www.stileproject.com This is totally unrelated and for the braze. I only suggest to go here if you want hair on your chest...although it hasn't helped me with that.....
I hope that the connection to the river and the music has been made clearer than the water in the Mississippi... I hope that you do explore the links and expand your knowledge further....and enjoy.