Blues You Can Use - By Keith Clements
If someone who was new to the blues were to ask me what is the best way to get some background about the music, I would recommend the following steps:
First, to get the feel of where the blues come from, I would get a video of some of the true blues legends like Bukka White, Johnny Shines, Fred McDowell, Lightnin' Hopkins and Son House. These bluesmen were the links between such blues originators as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton and the later generation of musicians, including Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, who went north to the cities and amplified their country sound. When you hear and see Son House play "Death Letter Blues", "Levee Camp Moon" or "Preaching the Blues", it will give you cold chills. Son lashed the strings of his National Steel guitar while singing with the emotional intensity of a possessed soul. Many of the bluesmen who recorded in the Thirties and Forties were living in obscurity when they were rediscovered around 1960. They enjoyed several years of recognition, playing concerts and festivals during the folk blues revival at that time. Recommended videos include: "Devil Got My Woman", (Blues at Newport 1966), Son House / Bukka White, "Legends of the Delta Blues" and "Legends of Bottleneck Blues Guitar" on Yazoo and Vestapol.
The next step would be to do some background reading on the blues. My first introduction was Samuel Charters' book, The Country Blues. (WebMaster's Note: this book and others mentioned here can be purchased from Amazon.Com by clicking on the book link and are listed in our Recommended Readings.) So much information has been found since this book was published in 1959 that it has become "an artifact of the 1950s". Charters later wrote The Blues Makers, which expanded on this early formative period of the blues.
The best concise overview of the music is in Deep Blues, published by Viking Press and written by Robert Palmer. He follows the blues from Stovall's Plantation in the Delta to Chicago's South Side with an easy-to-read text and basic discography. Another excellent resource, published by Abbeyville Press, is Nothing But the Blues, edited by Lawrence Cohn. The book includes eleven essays that describe the various styles and regional differences of the blues, plus it's loaded with illustrations and rare photos. If you want to get started collecting blues recordings, the All Music Guide to the Blues has the best reviews, ratings and profiles of blues musicians and styles.
To get current blues information, check out bookstores for several magazines on the blues. Living Blues is the best, having been around since 1970. This bi-monthly periodical maintains a high integrity of content, with interviews, record reviews and scholarly articles without getting too esoteric. Two other recent good magazines are Blues Review and Blues Access, which are published monthly and quarterly, respectively.
When you are saturated with information, it's time to get out and listen to the blues at the clubs, concerts and festivals. There are nearly forty groups in the Louisville area that currently perform regularly and they need your support. The summer and fall festivals, including Hot August Blues at Kenlake, Aug. 28-30 (1998), Blues to the Point in Carrollton Sept. 11 and 12 (1998) and the Garvin Gate Blues Festival on Oct. 9-11 (1998), have very strong line-ups of regionally and nationally known acts.
Finally, the last step is to join the Kentuckiana Blues Society for just $15 per year if you are not already a member.
Louisville Blues History - By Brenda Bogert
When you think of Louisville, Kentucky, you probably think of the Kentucky Derby, the Falls Fountain, the Riverwalk, Waterfront Park, distinctive neighborhoods and fabulous restaurants. If you think of culture and entertainment, then Actors Theatre, the Orchestra, the Ballet and the Center for the Arts may come to mind. What you may not know is that this city has a rich musical history that stretches back to its frontier days, with influences coming from the cultures of the French, Germans and African Americans that populated the city.
The African American influence has given us two musical genres that are considered all-American but are appreciated around the world: jazz and the Blues. In fact, about one hundred years ago jazz was developing in Louisville at the same time it was gaining popularity in New Orleans. At about the same time, the Blues was being performed here in medicine shows, on vaudeville theatre stages, and at White City amusement park.
In 1922, Mamie Smith made the first Blues record. Her "Crazy Blues" set off a recording boom the likes of which had never been seen before. Her phenomenal success created a demand for Blues records and female Blues recording artists. Almost overnight dozens of other "Blues Queens", such as Bessie Smith and Louisville's own Sarah Martin, released their records and became stars.
In 1923 another Louisvillian, Sylvester Weaver, made recording history with his "Guitar Blues", the first blues guitar record. Although his career was short-lived, his music lives on. He retired as a recording artist in 1927, but the second record that he made, "Guitar Rag", was appropriated by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in the early 1930s and reincarnated as "Steel Guitar Rag", which has become a country classic.