Like any form of music, blues has its versions, variations, off-shoots, flavours, styles and sub-genres. Hokum, West Coast, Piedmont, swamp – the list goes on. Distinguishing one from the other can be a difficult task. So, CBC Blues has put together a sample of the more prominent versions. Though they may have different names, you may notice that they rarely stray too far from each other.
Sometimes called folk or old-time blues, country blues is an acoustic form of the blues that grew from the southeastern U.S. in the 1920s and ’30s. It is the style from which most other forms of blues grew. Two prominent originators were Charlie Patton out of Mississippi and Blind Lemon Jefferson from Texas.
While country blues may be the style that spawned many styles to come, a close kin is delta blues. Though the blues is traced back to Africa, it is generally considered that what we know as the blues today began in the Mississippi Delta. Once again, Patton falls squarely into this category, as does Bukka White, Tommy Johnson and the immortal Robert Johnson. One name coming out of the Delta that is sited almost as often as Robert Johnson for influencing young blues apprentices is Son House.
As the blues moved up the Mississippi from the Delta it grew louder, and with it came Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. The volume, of course, came from amplification, but not just of guitars – harmonicas as well. Little Walter added a distinct definition to the Chicago sound by putting his harmonica to a microphone and pushing it harder than any player had before.
The heavier sound of Chicago blues caught the ears of young British rockers coming up through the scene in the U.K. People like Brian Jones and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones latched onto the sounds of Chicago players like Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. The Stones notoriously covered and borrowed from the blues, but the first great act that was strictly blues was the Bluesbreakers, featuring John Mayall; and none other than Eric Clapton was a member at one point.
The blues came across the pond and by the mid-1960s exploded into a wave of blues-based rock bands: Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream, Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, Fleetwood Mac and many others. By the end of the decade the sound had made its way back to the U.S., where a whole generation of rock bands was taking a cue from the blues and running with it. There was the Southern-fried rock of the Allman Brothers Band, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd; the West Coast sound of Big Brother and the Holding Company and The Doors. Janis Joplin was almost a mix of the two; and then there was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Stick it out for the 13 minutes of this tune and you’ll discover where blues meets rock – and a whole lot more.
Saturday Night Blues