Blues history

The history of the blues.

The origin of the blues is the work songs African slaves sang in the fields for several hundred years of slavery in America.

  • In 1912 the first blues was published. It’s called The Dallas Blues and was a popular blues, sung by the African-American population.
  • The blues was a way to express ones feelings when feeling low – blue.
  • The early blues was irregular, but soon the 12-bar blues became the most common form.
  • A blues usually consists of a number of 12-bar sections, where every 12-bar section is divided into three 4-bar sections.

Deep Blues by Robert Palmer

Here is a quote from the prologue of the blues book Deep Blues by Robert Palmer (1981) where he talks about the Delta Blues:

“Most writing on the blues has concentrated on the lyrics, or on the more colorful eccentricities of the perfromers. But Delta blues, the purest and most deeply rooted of all blues strains, is also significant as music.

It seems simple enough – two identical lines and a third answering line make up a verse, there are no more than three chords and sometimes only one, melodies are circumscribed, rythms are propulsively straightforward.

Yet countless white musicians have tried to master it and failed, and Delta bluesmen often laugh among themselves, remembering black musicians from Alabama or Texas who just couldn’t learn to play acceptably in the Delta style.

The fact of the matter is, Delta blues is a refined, extremely subtle, and ingeniously systematic musical language. Playing and especially singing it right involve some exceptionally fine points that only a few white guitarists, virtually no white singers, and not too many black musicians who learned to play and sing anywhere other than the Delta have been able to grasp.

These fine points have to do with timing, with subtle variations in vocal timbre, and with being able to hear and execute, vocally and instrumentally, very precise gradiations in pitch that are neither haphazard waverings nor mere effects.

We’re talking here about techniques that are learned and methodically applied, are meaningful in both an expressive and a purely musical sense, and are absolutely central to the art.”

He continues:

“Blues can’t be adequately understood if we confine our analysis to phonograph records or to the music that’s sung in nightclub and concert situations by blues musicians today. We need to understand what blues came from, where it grew, how it changed, what sorts of camouflage it had to adopt in order to preserve its identity.

And we need to undertand the people who made and listened to the blues, not just as blacks or oppressed Americans or romantic archetypes or clever technicians or successful entertainers but as particular people who made particular and artistic choices in a particular place at a particular time.”