Blues, then and now the History of the Blues Frank Leanza



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Chapter 17 – Blues in Europe

Europe was introduced to the blues by their white performers such as the skiffle bands that originated out of England and the young groups of the Rolling Stones, the Who. the Yardbirds, the Animals, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clayton and others. During the blues revival of the 1960s, it was however, the black blues people from the United States who went to Europe to re-activate the spirit and interest of the blues to the Europeans. Among them were Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terrell, Big Joe Williamson, Buddy Guy and a host of others.

Alex 'Rice' Miller (Sonny Boy) Williamson was a local favorite in Memphis, Tennessee, but did not reach his true recognition until he traveled to Europe. In 1961, he recorded "Nine below Zero" with his guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. for the Checker Label. And in 1963, he went on tour in Europe with his release or "On My Way Back Home," and was immediately accepted by the European public.
In the 1920s, professional women blues singers Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Gertrude Saunders, Beulah 'Sippie' Wallace and others made an impact with the blues while on tour and in concerts in Europe where the all black shows were warmly accepted. When John Hammond contracted Bessie Smith to do what became her last recording session in 1933, it was for the Parlophone Label in England. The main song that come out of that session was "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out."
In 1949, Leadhelly took his show to France. It was such a financial success that other European countries wanted the blues artists to perform for their people. In 1951, Big Bill Broonzy traveled throughout Europe featuring his popular hits of "John Henry" and "Black, Brown and White." There was no end of the influx of black blues performers for Europe. England was blessed with the talents of Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in 1958. It tool a little while for the Europeans to get acquainted with Muddy Waters' electric guitar, since they were accustomed to the acoustic guitar sound. But, after hearing Muddy's masterful performance on his guitar it was widely accepted.

The re-birth of the blues in Europe was obvious that music magazines were paying more attention to it and giving full coverage in their articles about the blues people and their music. Music critics, Yannick Bruynoghe and George Adins of Belgium and French writers Marcel Chauvard and Jacques Demetre came to the United States to do more research of the blues and its people. They settled in Chicago and Detroit for numerous interviews for information about the blues music, the clubs where blues were performed and the lifestyle of the blues people themselves.

With the growth and expansion of the blues in Europe, many publishers were printing blues magazines for their growing market. There were Blues Unlimited, Blues World, and Rhythm and Blues Monthly from England. Belgium had R&B Panorama and Sweden published the Jefferson magazine. Germany France, Japan, Italy and Finland had their editions of blues magazines. There was a hunger for more information about the blues and its people. Sweden sent Bengt Olsson to research the medicine shows arid the fife and drum bands. Researchers came to the Carolinas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Chicago, Detroit and Alabama to learn more about their musical traditions.
While on a European tour, Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachel and Hammie Nixon recorded "Rats in My Kitchen" and "Easin' Back to Tennessee" in 1962. Son House performed for the European public from 1964 to 1970. In 1965, Son House recorded "Empire State Express" for Columbia Records, but his failing health took its toll and he was forced to retire by the mid-1970s.

The Rolling Stones patterned their style of music with that of the Louisiana Blues. Several British musicians like Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies copied the style of guitarist Snapper Blackwell, Leroy Carr's duo partner. The results were their experimental version of "Down Home" rural blues as could be heard in their recording of "Blue Mink" on the Ace or Hearts Label in 1963. The Rolling Stones further developed their style into the form of rock-blues with an excellent rendition of "Little Red Rooster" recorded in 1964 for Decca Records. The outstanding guitarist Eric Clapton demonstrated his mastery of the instrument on the 1964 Decca release of "All Your Love" with John Mayall's Blues Breakers. In 1960, Memphis Slim left the United States to take up residence in Europe. He recorded in Paris and was treated royally. He was well received in all the clubs and concerts while on tour and had no intentions of ever coming back to the United States. He did not take kindly to how the black bluesmen were treated in America.

In 1949, Leadbelly was one of the first bluesmen to tour France and other countries in Europe. It was during this tour that the groundwork was laid for the blues revival in the 1960s. The Europeans heard for the first time country blues, rural blues, urban blues and folk music as played and sung by Leadbelly. Big Bill Broonzy was England's favorite American artist. He was looked upon and idolized by British guitarist Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and Martin Carthy. While on tour in Europe, Broonzy was a financial success and was greeted by an enthusiastic audience. He told Europeans that he was the last of the bluesmen in America.
In 1963, 'Rice' Miller 'Sonny Boy' Williamson was a tremendous hit in England. Young British groups like the Animals and the Yardbirds looked up to 'Rice' Miller as their inspiration and "Rice' even had them come in and record with him on his sessions while there. His last record date was in Copenhagen, Denmark for the Storyville Label in 1965. The session produced "Keep it to Ourselves" and "When the Lights Went Out." Shortly after the records were released, 'Sonny Boy' came back to America, as he told his friends, "I just came home to die." It happened in 1965.

During the 1960s revival, Europe got so involved with the blues and the blues people that they didn't want to wait for all the America blues artists to arrive there. So, England dispatched their music researcher Paul Oliver and his wife Valerie to the United States to get as much information and musical presentations as they could on tape to bring back home. While in Detroit, Oliyer's first objective was the piano blues where he recorded Boogie­Woogie Red. Shortly afterwards, be traveled to Chicago and hooked up with pianist Eurreal 'Little Brother' Montgomery and Roosevelt Sykes for a one-on-one interview and demonstration of their performance Sunnyland Slim and Otis Spann were also called upon for their input and demonstration on barrelhouse music and the blues.

Paul Oliver came in contact with blind guitarist James Brewer and Arvella Gray as they were playing on Chicago's Maxwell Street corners. Oliver recorded Gray's "Corinne Corinna" a barrelhouse composition and "Have Mercy Mr. Percy" a popular blues tune. Oliver's trip to the United States was successful. He got what he came for. He recorded Robert 'Junior' Lockwood, J.B. Lenoir, Will Shade, Jasper Love, Robert Curtis Smith, Wade Walton and others. Loaded with tapes and documents, Oliver and his wife returned to England.
The American Folk Blues Festival and the Newport Folk Festival were other vehicles that brought the blues to Europe. Traveling with the folk festivals were Brownie McGhee, Reverend Gary Davis, Sonny Terry, John Lee Hooker, John Hurt, Jesse Fuller and others. When word got back to America that Europe provided more opportunities for employment for the blues artists, there was a massive departure for Europe. Blacks were enjoying the enthusiastic welcome by the Europeans that many have stayed on after their concert tours were completed They included Memphis Slim, Eddie Boyd, Jack Dupree and Curtis Jones.
Europe however, was anxious to hear Sam 'Lightnin" Hopkins in concert and had offered him two thousand dollars a week for a tour to last as long as he wanted. But Sam had so much fear in flying that he refused the offer and remained in the United States to work in pool halls, juke joints and saloons for $17 a night. For the blues people who traveled to Europe, their rewards included prestige, popularity and the opportunity to work in more and in better clubs in the United States. The blues continues to prosper throughout Europe.

Chapter 18 – Blues Today

Now, in the decade of the 2000s, the record companies now release CDs that are produced in advanced studios with its multi-tracking consoles that have as many as forty-eight individual tracks with built in echo chambers for the highest level of recording technology. Today's blues artists are quite familiar with the new recording studios. They can come in for a session and adjust themselves to the use of the sensitized microphones and the liquefied headphones. They can be completely enclosed in a glass chamber or a square cubicle and feel comfortable in these surroundings. Inside the booth or the control room sits the sound engineer, a technician and sometimes the record producer to operate the sophisticated recording equipment.


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This scenario however, came a long way from the earlier recording days. It was quickly noticed that when the talent scouts brought the itinerant blues artists into a big city recording studio that was unfamiliar to them, they found it difficult to adjust to the strange environment that they were tensed and uncomfortable; therefore they were not able to produce an acceptable session. So it was the task of the talent scouts to load the back of their cars with a complete set or recording equipment and bring the "studio" so to speak to the surroundings that the artists could relate to and feel comfortable with. This allowed them to sing and play their blues in a relaxed atmosphere, which was the beginning of the field recordings.


When the results of the field recordings were sent back to the major studios, the record companies discovered that they have a product that they could produce for a special group or people. Since the artists were all black, the sales market would be targeted to the black community which gave birth to the term "race" records. Blues was basically black people's music. It was composed, sung, played and recorded by blacks for their black audiences, but as the blues was gaining in popularity, the audiences began to expand and many white people came to hear the music of the black artists.

The whites took to the blues so rapidly that the major record companies decided to expand their record buying public to include white distributors and jobbers to stock the records in white stores. To accomplish this, they had to change the term "race" records to rhythm and blues. This transformation took place in l949. When rhythm and blues (R&B) was officially adopted in 1949, many disc jockeys, music critics and record companies thought that was the end of the blues. Rhythm and blues was not a racial euphemism that applied to only one group of people. Unlike "race" records that have been in existence since 1920 and included all types of black music, such as jazz, blues, gospels, spirituals, string bands, washboard and jug bands and standard pop music primarily targeted for the black public. R&B embraced both the blacks arid whites.

During the decade of the 1950s, there were some black artists that expressed their dislike for the blues. One such person was Ruth Brown. But after some professional guidance from Blanche Calloway, Cab Calloway's sister and Atlantic Records executives, Ruth changed her tune about the blues and eventually became regarded as "Queen Mother of the Blues."
The blues however, did take a decline in popularity during the 1950s and blues musicians and songsters found places to perform hard to come by and therefore many of them had to find daytime jobs to make ends meet. Guitarist Nehemiah. 'Skip' James had to return to Mississippi to work on the farm as a sharecropper, Eddie 'Son' House at one time was considered one of the best blues musician and singer was forced to put away his guitar to work for the railroad company as a porter and a barbecue chef. Gus Cannon and Walter 'Furry' Lewis found employment with the Memphis Sanitation Department as street cleaners. They were pushing brooms on Beale Street in front or the same nightclubs they used to perform in.
In 1960, Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim decided to bring new life into the fading blues by leaving Chicago for a European tour. Their performances throughout Europe proved to be successful that the blues became alive again in the United States. The blues have recaptured the hearts of the blacks and a new breed of white audiences. Nightclubs were opening up for the blues artists in Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, New York and many southern cities alone the Mississippi Delta. The American Folk Blues Festivals made an extensive tour throughout Europe and the United Stales. During the next three decades new blues artists were being discovered.

Etta James, born on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles emulated two great ladies that sang the blues long before she was born. They were, 'Ma' Rainey and Bessie Smith. Etta's blues renditions were always expressed with deep emotions. Her up-tempo blues could be as explosive as Memphis Minnie McCoy or Lucille Bogan. Etta's success did not come easy. Although she had several hits on the rhythm and blues charts, such as "The Wallflower," "All I Could Do Was Cry," "Something's Got a Hold of Me," "Stop the Wedding" and "Tell Mama." They did not fully express her inner feelings as only the blues could do. 1970 was a bad decade for her. She had no recording contract. She was not able to get bookings in the bigger and better clubs, whereas she had to take whatever was available, like small clubs, coffee shops and local bars. She lived in a cheap run-down hotel and was often found roaming the streets at night. Then, in 1978, the Rolling Stones heard of her and used Etta as their opening act. Etta James never looked back. She won a Grammy for the best jazz performance for "Mystery Lady." She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has won phrases from many prominent people in the music industry; "One of the great forces in American music," One of the greatest vocalists since Billie Holiday," and "The greatest of all modern blues singers, the undisputed earth mother." Her focus is straight ahead and is often referred to today as the "Queen of the Blues."

Albert Collins made his debut on the blues scene in 1958 with the first single release of "The Freeze" on a 44 RPM record. After receiving recognition from his single success, he was invited to join Little Richard's band, replacing Jimi Hendrix. Collins is known for his fast powerful guitar playing that always generates a foot stomping audience. Collins credits his love for the blues with his close associations with his cousin Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins. T-Bone Walker, Gaternouth Brown and B.B. King. During the 1960s and 1970s he was constantly on tours with various groups and

recording for Imperial Records. In the 1980s, he became the number one recording artist for Alligator Records, winning awards and Grammy's from around the world. Unfortunately, during the midst of his deserved fame he died of cancer on November 24, 1993.


Robert Cray was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1953, and by the time he was 13 years old, he got his first guitar and joined a local band for experience. Robert was influenced with the guitar style of Albert Collins. In 1978, he recorded his first album for Tomato Records titled "Who's Been Talking." In 1983, he recorded "Bad Influence" for High Tone Records that got him nationwide acceptance as a true blues artist. He was able to do that with the sale of more than a million albums of his "Strong Persuader" release. Today, in the 2000s, he is still in constant demand with his videos on MTV regularly and performing to a sell out concert. Many young artists took up to Cray as their role model, a. good choice for the youngsters.

Harmonica player Billy Branch began his professional career during the late 1960s while he was still in his young teen­age period. Willie Dixon took Billy under his wing and guided him on the proper playing of the harmonica. It didn't take Billy long to get into a blues group with pianist Jimmy Walker. Branch made his first record with the Barrelhouse Label "Bring Me another Half Pint" and then moved on to Alligator Records with `'Living Chicago Blues." With his band the Sons of Blues, they are constantly on tour, and through the Urban Gateways Organization, Billy provides live blues music and a discussion of the blues to Chicago's school students.

These are just a few of today's outstanding blues performers. Recognition however, must be given to C. J Chenier, Kenny Neal, Vasti Jackson, Barbara Carr, Lurrie Bell, Son Seals, Fenton Robinson, Delbert McClinton, James Cotton, Johnny Copeland and Marva White. The blues is very much alive today-the perpetual flame that never goes out. More concert tours are organized the world over with sell-out attendances. Today's blues artists are transmitting the message of our past idols as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Howlin' Wolf, 'Ma' Rainey, Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie McCoy.
The more than 160 blues societies throughout the United States, Canada and Europe are constantly keeping the perpetual blues flame alive with their distribution of newsletters to keep their members of which there are more than 100,000 informed of all the latest information about blues artists and concerts.

When the blues emerged from the depth of the Mississippi Delta, it depicted the hardships, sufferings and inhumane treatments of the black people. They were forced to work at hard labor on the plantations, the docks, in chain-gangs and in construction camps. The black women were sexually abused unmercifully. However, as time pressed forward the views, the thinking and the opinions about the blues and its people has changed with the Americans and Europeans. They now embrace the blues unbiased and without prejudice whole heartedly.


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