The blues is a form of music that can be vocal, instrumental (blues guitar) or both. It uses the ‘blue’ notes which are based on a ‘minor pentatonic’ scale most of the time, otherwise known as the blues scale.
Blues music was derived from the African-American communities in the U.S. out of work songs, spiritual songs, field hollers, chants, shouts and simple ballads that rhymed. A lot of aspects of the blues are indicitive of African influence.
The call-and-response aspect of the music came directly from African roots and there were a lot of lines that would get repeated twice or more. This later evolved into a line repeating twice and then on the third time around there would be an ‘answer line’. You can still find these characteristics of early blues in modern day music, especially hip-hop.
The term ‘The Blues’ refers to the ‘blue devils’ which means down spirits or sadness.
The blues guitar plays a heavy role in blues music as well as modern music. It has influenced Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Bluegrass and even Rock N’ Roll tremendously.
The original blues of the early 1900’s, otherwise known as “poor man’s blues” was normally associated with hard times, oppression from white folk, cruelty of the police, gambling, economic depression, floods, magic, farming and dry periods. This music was fueled by a lot of heartache and depression. Usually a lost loved one or an overall harsh environment inspired the lyrics and the tone of the blues guitar.
After the world war, you began to see blues songs that were about relationships and sex. Also, humor was added to the mix. Here is a funny example:
“That must be your woman, cause mine don’t look like that…
I said That must be your woman, cause mine don’t look like that…
Have you seen my baby? She’s so big and fat…”
The blues guitar style emerged from the American South’s instruments of the time which were the banjo and the Diddley Bow. This was a home made one stringed instrument that was popular in the early 20th century. Figures such as Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House and Blind Willie McTell were a part of the delta blues style which used a lot of finger picking techniques and slide guitar innovations.
Eventually, after WWII ‘electric blues’ became increasingly popular where the blues guitar was played on electric guitars as were the bass guitars. This was most prevalent in the Chicago area.
Blues music today has become a multi-cultural genre with artists playing Blues in every corner of the world. Texas-born Stevie Ray Vaughan set the music world on fire with his modern combination of Blues and Rock until his untimely death in 1990. Other modern Blues artists making a mark are: Shemekia Copeland, Susan Tedeschi, Robert Cray, Taj Mahal, Charlie Musselwhite, and the North Mississippi Allstars .
The history of blues guitar and poor man’s blues is rich with culture and stories of good times and bad. I could go on for days about the history of the blues guitar but let’s make this part 1 so you don’t fall asleep on me!