So just to let my readers in on my feeble brain as regards my love of blues music…
From as long as I can remember I loved different. Like, if someone had red hair and freckles I liked them almost immediately. As time went on I might not like ’em so much due to character and such, but “exotic” and “unique” was always a drawing card to me.
The other thing that called me outside my own “boxes” shall we say, was the underdog. Minorities not only held my interest because of what to me were often cool differences to my white culture, but also in that they were obviously looked down upon as “lesser”, mostly given less chances, less grace than people in white- and don’t miss this… dominant culture.
In my earliest days I loved the minor chords and basic progressions (music arrangements) in blues. I didn’t CARE if there were scratches and pops or too much mid-range or whatever in those old field recordings by John and later Alan Lomax, etc.. The music on those old records just sounded real, authentic, and that is core to my love of the idiom.
Certainly plenty if not all of the bluesmen and women were simply trying to survive, make a buck off of their talent. Most traveled, wandered all over the nation, many touring Europe years later in the 60s and 70s “blues revival”. As stated, for some it was perhaps mostly about making a living.
But I didn’t think “cash register” when I heard blues as I did in listening to most white music. Blues both sounded and felt Believable.
This is part of what I aim at in building and playing cigarbox and found-object guitars. That raw, no net, bring it from the heart and gut or go home sort of vibe. Having experienced poverty and country as well as inner-city life certainly affects my own music.
As a fan, a listener loving this stuff I was often able to overlook a not-so-well written song due to the sheer power of a blues artist’s performance. As a musician and song writer myself that’s a no-no, a technical problem. Great songwriting and arrangements are a huge part of excellence and not to be taken lightly. But as a listener I was and am often in awe of the heart and soul the mostly African-American artists put into their live and recorded work.
Chicago’s (my hometown since 1973) own Willie Dixon and of course the Delta’s Robert Johnson before him both wrote an incredible amount of well-written, strongly arranged songs. Yet even those songs became standards in part due to recordings pregnant with passionate delivery.
When you sound like you mean it, I can respect that -even if I fully disagree with you on a point here and there.
Hearing Rev. Gary Davis (for me, THE revelation of what flamboyant blues guitar and shout-singing could be!) and Blind Willie Johnson took me much further down the road. Son House, Huddie Ledbetter (aka Leadbelly) and plenty more in the acoustic country blues style just knocked me out with both songs and performance.
Still, to this day my phone is largely populated with Smithsonian and U.S. Library of Congress public domain blues, field hollers, prisoner’s songs and a few spirituals that were recorded long ago on early mono (not stereo) tape recorders “in the field”. Most people never heard these and even many blues fans never will.
The power of heart and soul vs. slick production is the quest and though I admit there is plenty of the latter in some present-day blues there are vast amounts of the former in the earliest records.
When you read the Lomax’s (and others) comments about this strange, beautiful, haunting music that they felt they just had to document with audio and bits of written commentary you get the feeling they had heard what I suppose I did when I first became aware of this music style.
That genuine, gut-honest, real world did more for me than all the make-believe pulp sung by “entertainers”. Yet again, there is no doubt, entertainment was literally the business of the bluesmen and women, solo, duo or band from early times.
But as always, the power is in that sense of integrity I so often hear as the greats and nobody-you-ever-heard-of’s plow this sonic ground. Heart. Earth. Reality. Often coloring outside the lines of mainstream and falseness.
Re. “Signifying The Blues” by Robert Switzer
Though I believe the above excerpt is 90 percent spot-on, I fully disagree with the punchline of Charles Simic’s quote. Over most of my lifetime experience I find a daily relationship with the risen Jesus Christ not only real, in fact essential- but that He is Himself the elusive CURE of which Mr. Simic speaks. Blues music is to me the sonic blood of experience crying and calling out for the saving blood.
I’m also fond of reminding peeps that the Book of Psalms are largely laments. We live in a fallen world where pain is as natural as rain. Hmmm… sounds like a song in the works.
Well, these are just a few core reasons I love blues music.
As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn