History of Blues. Part-6

Chicago blues is based on the sound of the electric guitar and the harmonica, with the harmonica played through a PA system or guitar amplifier, both heavily amplified and often to the point of distortion, and a rhythm section of drums and bass (double bass at first, and later electric bass guitar) with piano.


By 1945, many of the pre-war blues artists — Big Bill Brunzi, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Maceo, Tampa Red, and Memphis Mine — were still working in black clubs. They had many followers, and the surviving racial record companies willingly recorded them. Young blues performers such as Eddie Boyd, Memphis Slim and Leroy Foster also gained popularity. Some of the older ones – pianist Sunnyland Slim (Albert Landrew) and Robert Nighthawk (Robert McCallum) – had enough local popularity, they recorded several records.

One of the sessions hosted by Sunnyland Slim featured a young blues performer (fed at Brunzi clubs) who was soon destined to play a prominent role in the Chicago blues: Muddy Waters, whose present McKinley Morganfield (born Rolling Fock, Mississippi, 4.04 .1915; d. Chicago, 04/30/1983). Formed by the recordings of Sean House and Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters switched from harmonica to guitar at the age of 17. These influences are found in his “I Be’s Troubled”, “Country Blues” (L. of C. AAFS 18, 1941), which he recorded at Clarksdale for the Library of Congress. After 2 years, he moved to Chicago, where he began recording since 1947. “Walkin ‘Blues” (Chess 1426, 1950) was based on “Country Blues”, but now it was played on electric guitar in a vibrating slide technique and his voice was louder and harder. This recording was the last on which he was accompanied by only one bass: in the wonderful “Louisiana Blues” (Chess 1441, 1950) Little Walter played along on the harmonica, and soon they were joined by his half-brother Otis Spann and second guitarist Jimmy Rogers – they and formed the core of his powerful Chicago group. By 1953, Muddy Waters was playing dramatic songs with a clear climax such as “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” (Chess 1560, 1953) and “Manish Boy” (Chess 1602, 1955). They became the model for many driving songs like “Got My Mojo Working” (Chess 1620, 1956) or “Tiger In Your Tank” (Chess 1765, 1960), which in their pompous style and loudness expressed the warlike spirit of the Negro ghettos of the time. Later, Muddy Waters toured extensively, yet gradually losing contact with the black audience. After a car accident in 1970, he was forced to sing while sitting on a chair.

Jazz Gillam and John Lee Sonny Boy Williamson discovered the power of harmonica in small group work; among their followers are southerner performers Snooki Pryor and Walter Sheiki Horton. The undisputed leader among them can be considered ‘Little Walter’ Jacobs (b. Alexandria, Louisiana, 05/01/1930; d. Chicago, 02/15/1968). At the age of 8, he made a living playing the accordion.

After 10 years he played on Maxwell Street in Chicago, where he recorded “Ora Nelle Blues” (Ora Nelle 711.1947). Here he paid tribute to Sonny Boy Williamson, although he soon developed his own technique for playing harmonica with an amplifier, uttering the words “vibrato” or “trill”, as heard in “Mean Old World” (Checker 764, 1952). As a singer, he had an almost colorless voice, but as an instrumentalist, he was much more expressive, especially in slow numbers: “Blue Lights” (Checker 799, 1954) with guitarist Robert Lockwood. An outstanding performer, Little Walter has brilliantly played along with other musicians, as in “Rollin ‘And Tumblin” (Parkway 501, 1950) performed by Leroy Foster and in sessions with Muddy Waters, for whom he provided truly brilliant support in “Long Distance Call” (Chess 1452 , 1951) and “All Night Long” (Chess 1509, 1952). Little Waltert had a strong influence on many young musicians; he himself was surprised to learn, on a European tour in the 60s, how well the public knew his recordings.

Performers Geordie Smith, who also called himself Little Walter Jr., and Big Walter Horton managed to adopt the style of Little Walter, although Horton, due to his curious gestures nicknamed “Sheiki”, developed an individual and exhilarating style of playing. Guitarist and accordionist Howling Wolf (traditionally blues singers still picked up colorful nicknames), with his rude, unstoppable manner and imposing physical appearance, challenged Muddy Waters.

Born Chester Burnett (born West Point, Mississippi, 06/10/1910; d. Hines, Illinois, 01/10/1976). He worked on a plantation in the Mississippi Delta and listened to Charlie Patton and Willie Brown. Possessing a rough voice, he adopted Patton’s “heavy” vocal style and, as it were, adopted his energy. While traveling in Arkansas, he met Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex Miller), and he taught him to play the harmonica. At almost 40 years old, he first recorded with a group from Memphis, which included pianist and guitarist Ike Turner: the dramatic “Moanin ‘And Midnight” (Chess 1479, 1950) was immediately noticed; with his barking cries, the singer justified the nickname.

Other versions of the song followed, including the powerful and rhythmic “Riding In The Moonlight” (RPM 333, 1951). He quickly refined his voice to produce a tense, punchy effect, as in “Smoke Stack Lightning” (Chess 1618, 1956), based on Patton’s recording of his son Hubert Samlin playing guitar.

Like Muddy Waters and Elmore James, Howlin ‘Wolfe honed the sound of the post-war Chicago blues, his direct play on the harmonica, as in “Hjjr Boy” (Chess 1679, 1957), inspired the same high quality playing and his accompaniment line. Although he could play guitar, he rarely recorded with her; the exception is “The Red Rooster” (Chess 1804, 1960), yet more notable for its menacing vocals.

Later recordings, “Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy” (Chess 1870, 1963), often sounded unnatural, while his stage performances teetered on the brink of the grotesque, although wonderful for his age. But slow blues like “My Country Sugar Mama” (Chess 1911, 1964) still impress with persistent harmonica and rich vocal data. The last ten years of his life, he actively toured, but still he was best at performing in clubs in Chicago.

If Howlin Wolfe started from Charlie Patton, and Muddy Waters from Sean House, then Elmor James (born Richland, Mississippi, 01/27/1918; d. Chicago, 05/24/1963) inspired Robert Johnson. Not very well versed in musical technique, he limited himself to the slide rhythms gleaned from Johnson. His voice was strained, stifled, and, like many performers of his generation, he attached more importance to the performance and volume itself, rather than content and refined expressiveness. The attitude of the blues artist towards his audience has changed. The shift from veranda to restaurant dancing to the music of a turntable, from saloon to “hired” party, from odd jobs to long gigs in Chicago clubs contributed to the increased attention to the concert in front of the audience, and the weakening of the expression of their own feelings. The blues still represented mood music, but the blues performer began to control the mood of his listeners.

Some performers enjoyed well-deserved fame in Memphis or further south, but they had to wait a long time to achieve wider recognition. One of them was Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex ‘Rice’ Miller) (b. Glendora, Mississippi, 12/5/1897; d. Helena, Arkansas, 05/25/1965). In 1941, he took on the name of his younger but better-known performer when he began performing on radio for the Interstate Grocer Company, which advertised his concerts on radio and organized traveling road shows in the 1940s. He was in his 50s when he first recorded (“Eyesight To The Blind” (Trumpet 129, 1951)) in Jackson, Mississippi with a local band; the recording captured his quivering voice and amplified harmonics, while also revealing a strong and mature blues performer.


At the end of the 50s, significant changes took place in many areas of black music. It turned out that the partial fusion of blues, gospel vocal groups and other forms of black music was reflected in the emergence of a generalized genre of rhythm and blues. In parallel with the rapid growth in popularity of these musical directions, the areas of activity of record companies expanded. The growing interest in gospel is especially noteworthy: many performers made very passionate and expressive arrangements of them, while many groups used instrumental accompaniment. Some of the gospel performers combined their technique with the blues technique, sometimes making small changes to the lyrics. Soul – music owes much of its origin to this synthesis of styles.

Soul music is not the topic of this chapter. This is a significant cut of black music, but many of its performers still work within the blues form. Robert Calvin ‘Bobby Blue’ Bland (b. Rosemark, Tennessee, 01/27/1930) was the biggest influence on soul. Arriving in Memphis as a teenager, he sang with the local gospel band The Miniatures. In 1949 he co-created “The Beale Streeters” with John Alexander (Johnny Ace) and Roscoe Gordon – they performed on the “black” radio station WDIA. In the early 50s, Bland toured with Ace, guiding guitar style mostly on T-Bone Walker, and vocally on BB King, such as “It’s my life baby” (Duke 141, 1955). Experimenting with flowing, sentimental singing, and a gruff, screaming gospel voice, he eventually created the hit “Cry Cry Cry” (Duke 327, 1960). Far from the blues, Bland toured with accordionist Herman “Little Junior” Parker, who hosted the “Blues Consolidated” packing show. Bland carefully nurtured his stage style, with its inherent warmth and close relationship with the audience.

Singer and guitarist Riley BB ‘Blues Boy’ King (born Indianola, Mississippi, 09/16/1925) has been and remains faithful to the blues despite his close acquaintance with jazz, gospel and other styles. This perhaps the most famous and closest to the audience bluesman of our time grew up in Mississippi, from the age of eight he sang in a church choir. In Indianola, he later worked as a sharecropper and tractor driver, while simultaneously learning to play the guitar and performing gospel songs in various groups. In 1946, he moved to Memphis where he became a companion to his cousin Bukka White and made acquaintances with other Bluesmen, including Sonny Boy Williamson. On the shortly before created radio station WDIA, he rose to fame as a disc jockey under the name Billy Street Blues, which was eventually shortened and transformed into BBKing. His music was influenced by innovative electric guitarists such as T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson and jazz musician Charlie Christian. From them he adopted and developed the arpeggio-based technique of solo guitar, which he used, performing with various compositions, including performers on saxophones and trumpet. In late 1949, BB King began recording, and in early 1952 his “Three o’Clock Blues” (Rpm 339, 1952) reached the top of the rhythm and blues charts in 15 weeks and all his subsequent works rarely “missed” the charts. Between the 50s and 60s, BB King toured extensively with the Tony Bradshaw group, performed at the Fillmore Auditorium (San Francisco) in 1968, has given numerous concerts abroad since 1970, was awarded two honorary doctorates and recorded over 450 songs.

A talented showman, King gave his guitar the female name “Lucille” and dedicated his album “Spotlight on Lucille” to her, developing an original stage style that emphasizes a clearly individual style of playing. Individual “curved” and “stretched” notes were replaced by cascades of descending arpeggios, in addition, his voice sounded somewhat taut due to the “suffering” manner of performance, for example, in “Every day I have the blues” (RPM 421, 1953), which is performed on background of swinging accompaniment. The difference between King’s technique and the other musicians he has worked with can be seen in “Lucille’s Granny” (Probe SPB1051, 1971): there are three lead guitar parts – King, Jesse Davis and Joe Welch. Among his most popular and frequently performed themes are the slow blues “Sweet Little Angel” (RPM 486, 1956), “My Own Fault Baby” (Crown 5188, 1960), “Confessin ‘The Blues” (ABC 528, 1966); they all showcase the elegance of his guitar improvisation. King was a significant influence on blues guitarists, many of whom also tried to compete with his popularity with white audiences.

King, as well as instrumentalists like T-Bone Walker, have influenced many singers. Among them, two of his namesakes can be distinguished, Albert Nelson was not only two years older than BB King, but was also born in Mississippi, changed his last name to King. With a heavy build, with a more traditional approach to blues playing, he is still clearly oriented towards the style of BB King (even Albert King called his guitar “Lucy”).

Freddie King expressed his gratitude to BB King in the song “Have you ever loved a woman” (Federal 12384, 1960), accompanying his screams and “suffering” with guitar decorations. He preferred playing with a large orchestra, which only emphasized the quality of his instrumental work. In “Wide Open” (Atlantic 588186, 1969), recorded with the King Oates Orchestra; his talent for gorgeous arrangements of old blues is evident in Eddie Boyd’s version of “Five Long Years” (A & M Records AMLS 65004, 1971). Freddie King died in his native Texas in 1972 at the age of 42.

The riffing line-ups studied harmonies and maintained a contrast between the main performer and his elaborate guitar playing so that the latter would form a coherent whole.

The Texan Albert Collins (born 1932), through his interpretation of B.B. King, absorbed the legacy of the T-Bone Walker, their technique found expression in “In Love Wit’cha” (Tumbleweed 3501, 1972). Collins was not immediately recognized, but his live performances in the 70s were received very loudly and many young guitarists recognized his influence on their playing. Like soul performers, its accompaniment often included an organist and sometimes a vocal group.

Since the beginning of the 70s, festivals and foreign tours began to play a significant role in the development of blues performers. So Jimmy Dawkins (born 1939) nicknamed ‘Fast Fingers’ recorded his “Lick for Licks” (Vogue (F) LDM 30.149, 1971) in Paris; in it, George Arvanitas plays the organ, and an undeservedly secondary role of the guitarist is given to the magnificent but little-known Mickey Baker. Dawkins, in principle, is an average performer, and he is far from Luther’a Allison’a (b.1939), with whom he sometimes worked, whose voice was filled with suffering and anxiety – for example in “The skies are ceying” (Delmark DS 625, 1969). Without hiding BB King’s deep influence on him, Alison was grateful to Otis Rush, one of two or three outstanding performers of that generation.

Otis Rush (born Philadelphia, Mississippi, 04/29/1934) arrived in Chicago at the age of 14 and soon began occasionally playing guitar in local clubs. His first recording, “I can’t quit you baby” (Cobra 5000, 1956), became a national hit. Although he was particularly good at the slow blues, for which his tight vocals were perfect, he also recorded several powerful fast songs like “Jump Sister Bessie” (Cobra 5015, 1957) with a band that included accordionist Walter ‘Shakey’ Horton (1917 – 1981). “So many roads, so many trains” (Chess 1751, 1960), with his expressive singing, was also a success, but Rush sometimes sounds less expressive on recording than “alive”. “All your love” (Trio PA 3086, 1975) is distinguished by his excellent guitar playing. Drawing on the experience of BB King and other musicians in his work, Rush experimented with playing the blues in minor keys and attached great importance to the lyrics of his songs.

Many aspiring Chicago bluesmen have split into at least two groups, depending on whether they followed Bobby Bland in his attitude to soul music or inspired by Otis Rush’s soul-influenced blues. ‘Magic’ Sam Maghett, who died early, belonged to Rush’s “camp”; his original version of Rush’s song “All your love” (Cobra 5013, 1957), recorded when he was 20, brings out a promising musician.

Another follower of Rush was named George ‘Buddy’ Guy (born Lettsworth, Louisiana, 07/30/1936). Until the age of 20, he lived in Louisiana, where he played with young musicians accompanying ‘Lightnin’ Slim ‘(Otis Hicks, 1913-1974). Moving to Chicago, he fell under the influence of Rush’s game, over whom he subsequently won a blues duel. His guitar playing was lyrically tuned, honed with clean sounds, skillful enough that he became, like Muddy Waters, a regular “customer” of the Chess company, with which Guy recorded “The first time I meet the blues” (Chess 1735, 1960) , remarkable high, rich vocals and expressive guitar playing. Guy played along with Sonny Boy Williamson in Truing to get back on my feet (Checker 1080, 1963) and left an impression of supporting Amos’ Junior ‘Wells’ a (born 1934) in the slow blues Shigs on the Ocean ( Dellmark DL 012, 1965). The successful collaboration with Junior Wells was complemented by the ability not only to play with great skill, but also to perform in front of a large audience. Their live performances are very popular, and during one of them Guy made some of his best recordings: “Ten Years Ago” (Red Lightnin (F) RL 0034, 1974) in Montreux; remade a song he first recorded in 1961, and the rock standard “High Heel Sneakers” in their performance was well received by the public (Bourbon (J) BMC 2001, 1975). However, some of their recent performances were more of a publicity than a quality.

Blues performed by a generation of bluesmen born in the late 30s and 40s, has been thoroughly tinted with soul tones. A typical example is Texan James Copeland (born in 1937), who, having worked in Houston bands, began touring with Freddie King and his own band in the 60s, balancing on the brink of rock, soul and blues styles. In his best acts, such as “Trid Party” (Rounder 2025, 1981), he sings at full power and plays skillfully and with feeling. A similar approach to music was found in the work of ZZHill (1941-1984), from Texas, following Bobby Bland’s soul style; “Down Home Blues” (Malako 7406, 1981) marked a step towards soul blues, which was not slow to feel the vast, almost predominantly white, audience. Hill’s early death orphaned the blues, robbing him of one of the most promising talented young performers.

Frank ‘Son’ Seals (born 1942) from Osceola, Arkansas had a wealth of experience playing with Earl Hooker and Hound Dog Taylor before he began playing with Albert King in the late 60s. He developed a technique for playing the guitar that resembled tremors, his singing was distinguished by emotionality. “Your love is like a cancer” (Alligator 4703, 1972) is his best work, but some of his later recordings fall short of live performance.

Traveling south to find local and previously unrecognized veteran performers (mostly accompanying themselves on guitars, less often on harmonica) continues, but the young bluesmen are dwindling. Signs of a resurgence of interest in blues among young blacks in the 1980s are indicative of a resurgence of interest in blues among young blacks in the 1980s: examples of this include Saddle up my pony (High Water 1001, 1983) by the Memphis group Fieldstones, or Phone Booth (Hightone 301, 1984 ) Robert Cray (born 1952). However, it cannot be denied that since the 60s the blues have found less and less echo among blacks. Therefore, the question of whether the blues in the future can be considered the music of black Americans, unfortunately, raises doubts.

— History of Blues Music: Part 6 —

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