Blues is a genre of music originating in America. It evolved from field shouts and hollers of slaves in the Deep South, and many of its properties are similar to those of ethnic African music. These characteristics include tumbling strain, call and response structure, and short, repetitive phrases. Blues is also known for its 12-bar chord progression and blue notes, which can be found in a majority of blues songs.
There are distinct blues styles associated with Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, the East Coast, Kansas City, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta region, New Orleans (which is separate from Louisiana blues), St. Louis, Texas, and the West Coast.
Common Characteristics of Blues
In modern blues the tumbling strain and call and response are usually combined together in a three phrase strain. The famous 12-bar format lends itself directly to this type of phrase structure: music phrases are often 4 bars long, which makes for 3 phrases per chord cycle. The first two phrases are based around the root chord, and the third line is based around the dominant chord in the scale.
There are some variations on the 12-bar format, but the most basic form is as follows:
Phrase one: I I / IV I I Phrase two: IV IV I I Phrase three: V IV I I / V
If the last chord is the dominant (V), then the last line is called a turn around line, because it turns the phrase around and sets it up for another cycle. Another variation is to make the last bar in each line a seventh chord.
Beginning: Delta Blues
The Delta region southern Mississippi is known as “the land where blues was born.” This is where some of the first forms of blues were recorded in the 1920’s performed by such artists as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton, Son House, Bukka White and Tommy Johnson. Recordings of these artists in rural settings are often referred to as the 'counttry blues.' These recordings, however, often did not represent the sound of live blues at the time. Live performances were usually a string band, but most recordings from the day were of a solo singer accompanying himself on the guitar. Nowadays, however, the entire band is recorded, sometimes adding brass and woodwind instruments on top of the standard harmonica (sometimes called a harp) and strings. The Delta style is also known for surge singing, which is short, surging phrases of sound.
Further Migration of Blues
Chicago style blues was one of the urban styles of blues that developed after the “great migration” of poor black workers into the industrial Northeast and Midwest in the first half of the twentieth century. Chicago style blues is traditional Delta style, but with electric guitar added as well as drums, bass, piano and sometimes saxophone. It has a more electrified and gritty feel than the Delta style. Representative artists who are associated with this style are Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Otis Rush and Elmore James.
After the great migration blues moved across the country and overseas; it even was highly influential in the British rock invasion of the 60’s. Almost every modern American genre of music, especially jazz, country, and rock were greatly influenced by, or inseparably linked with blues.