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Blues Music and Authenticity

Permanent Link: http://ncf.sobek.ufl.edu/NCFE004804/00001

Material Information

Title: Blues Music and Authenticity
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Langston, Nathaniel
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
Publication Date: 2013

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Blues
Musical Authenticity
Country Blues
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This thesis was done in three parts. The first of these parts is a project essay describing my research and conclusions regarding blues music and authenticity. This section represents the academic research portion of my thesis. The second section involved a collaborative performance at New College's "blues X" themed Crossroads Music Festival. This includes original music that I wrote for my project. The final part was a thesis performance of the music discussed in my written section. Some of this project are how factors such as race and ethnicity play in determining who can play blues. What does the term blues really mean and the idea of blues as a marketing term. How Blues music can still be considered a viable art form today.
Statement of Responsibility: by Nathaniel Langston
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Miles, Stephen

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2013 L2
System ID: NCFE004804:00001

Permanent Link: http://ncf.sobek.ufl.edu/NCFE004804/00001

Material Information

Title: Blues Music and Authenticity
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Langston, Nathaniel
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
Publication Date: 2013

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Blues
Musical Authenticity
Country Blues
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This thesis was done in three parts. The first of these parts is a project essay describing my research and conclusions regarding blues music and authenticity. This section represents the academic research portion of my thesis. The second section involved a collaborative performance at New College's "blues X" themed Crossroads Music Festival. This includes original music that I wrote for my project. The final part was a thesis performance of the music discussed in my written section. Some of this project are how factors such as race and ethnicity play in determining who can play blues. What does the term blues really mean and the idea of blues as a marketing term. How Blues music can still be considered a viable art form today.
Statement of Responsibility: by Nathaniel Langston
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Miles, Stephen

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2013 L2
System ID: NCFE004804:00001


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1 Blues Music and Authenticity BY Nathaniel Langston A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Stephen Miles Sarasota, Florida April 2013

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2 Blues Music and Authenticity Nathaniel Langston New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT This thesis project was done in three parts. The first of these parts is a project essay describing my research and conclusions regarding blues music and authenticity. This section represents the academic research portion of my thesis. The second section involved a collaborative performance at New College’s “Blues X” Crossroads Music Festival. This included original music that I wrote for my project. The final part was a thesis performance of the music discussed in my written section. Some of the themes of this project are: how factors such as race and ethnicity play in determining who can play blues; what the term blues really means; the idea of blues as a marketing term; how blues music can still be considered a viable art form today. Stephen Miles Humanities

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3 Introduction When I thought about what I wanted to accomplish in my undergraduate thesis, I wanted to work on something to which I could personally relate. To give you some background on myself, I have been playing guitar for about 11 years now. I was around 13 when I first started to be interested in music. I had played trumpet in band during middle school, but never considered music as a passion. The reason that I wanted to learn to play guitar was initially that I was given a copy of the Beatles’ Abbey Road, and loved it. After learning some of the basics of playing guitar for about a year or so, I became interested in blues music when a friend of the family gave me a B.B. King CD. After becoming interested in blues music, I then got a Robert Johnson CD. This was the point when I started to develop a style more in line with the Classic Country blues players, who performed mostly as solo guitarists. Since I consider a good portion of the music that I play to be considered “blues”, I would consider myself to be a blues musician. However, could someone like me truly be considered a blues musician in a classic sense? I consider myself an outsider to blues music. I consider myself a blues devotee and an interpreter, and as someone with sufficient overall knowledge of the history of the music. I am as far removed from the early blues culture as one could possibly be. I am Caucasian, I’m firmly of middle class, and I have never fully lived many of the experiences that are talked about in classic blues songs. In addition, I do not limit myself to simply playing blues songs. For all of these reasons can I truly be considered a blues musician, and can I truly be capable of playing “authentic blues music”? This is not only a research into my own personal musical authenticity, but one that can be applied to a much broader question of what is the blues? I wrote this thesis in three distinct parts. The first of these is a project essay describing my research and conclusions regarding blues music and authenticity. This section represents the

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4 academic research portion of my thesis. For the second section of my thesis, I took part in a collaborative performance at New College’s “blues X” themed Crossroads Music Festival. This was an opportunity for me to see just how far I can stretch the idea of blues music. Finally, the final portion of my thesis was a thesis performance of the music discussed in my written section. The plan of this thesis was to give me an opportunity to not only do research on the music, but to find ways to apply it on a musical level. The Crossroads performance was a good experiment for examining just how far blues as a genre can be stretched, and still be considered blues. The theme of this year’s Crossroads Music Festival is titled “Blues X”. The plan for this theme was mixing blues and bluegrass styles with more diverse influences from anything from Rock and Roll, and Jazz to 20th Century art music. This performance was meant to show how the blues as a musical genre can be applied and intermixed with more modern influences and still retain the original blues influence. I performed three pieces for this festival. The first of these pieces was a piece written for prepared guitar. A prepared guitar piece, involves the guitar being “set up” with common household Items such as shoelaces, paperclips, etc. This piece is the least recognizable as being blues influenced. My main inspiration for writing this piece was the work of experimental guitarists Marc Ribot, and Fred Frith. Both are players who are famous for pushing the guitar to its outermost limits. Despite these more avant garde influences, the piece does indeed contain some blues influences in the techniques used to play it, such as using a butter knife in a similar fashion as bluesman Cedell Davis. This is certainly a piece that doesn’t contain any kind of blues scales or structure found in blues. In fact, this piece is played without using conventional notes. This piece is written to be one that could be interpreted and arranged differently depending on who plays it. In this way this piece really isn’t a blues piece at all. This type of composition is

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5 suggestive more of a 20th century classical influence than it is blues. However the approach I took to arranging the piece (using a slide for some of the notes, and a butter knife etc.) is meant to suggest the blues influence in the interpretation. The second piece that I performed was a solo fingerstyle guitar piece titled “Broken Wagon Wheel”. This may be the piece that most closely resembles and suggests country blues. My biggest influence in writing this piece was the work of guitarist John Fahey. This piece is performed in an open C tuning (low to high CGCGCE). While open tunings are common in country blues, the Open C tuning is something that is very rarely heard among traditional blues musicians. “Broken Wagon Wheel” also has some chord changes that don’t really fall into the 12 bar format. This piece is meant to suggest the way most country blues guitarists approach playing the music. “Broken Wagon Wheel” was written to show that even when playing a more traditional style of blues (with a solo guitar played in an open tuning) that there are ways that the music can be changed. My third performance involved my music group “The Antiquarians”. We have been described as a heavy metal blues band, with some non blues influences, such as Frank Zappa and King Crimson. This may in some ways be the farthest removed from the traditional blues material that I performed for Crossroads. This performance was also be completely different from anything else I play, in that it involves playing as a member of a musical group, rather than as a solo performer with just a guitar. This piece was a good way to measure personal authenticity. The second part of this thesis, took place as a solo performance. This performance consisted of the music that I discuss in the written portion of my thesis. This performance consisted of a set script that will discuss factual elements of the songs (history, relevance to my project, etc.). This part of the project was a showcase for me to demonstrate my knowledge of the blues as well as

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6 my abilities as a guitarist. This part of the performance will provide you an opportunity to judge my authenticity. Blues Music and Authenticity When a performer plays music in a specific style, the question of authenticity is raised. This is especially true for a style of music that is as deeply rooted in a specific culture as the blues. The blues is famous for its birth from the financial and social struggles of African Americans in the early part of the 20th century. With most of the original performers long dead, dying or retired, it begs the question whether a modern performer or a performer of a different background could play music that could be viewed as authentic blues. The other question that this raises is whether blues as a body of music, even when performed by “authentic blues musicians” can be advanced, or is it simply a stagnant art form that will be abandoned in favor of some newer and more adaptable musical trend. The financial and racial struggles that most people consider as the conditions that lead to the birth of the blues, have been something that I have never experienced firsthand. The only way I have of understanding these conditions is through articles and recordings, a long way away from the real experiences themselves. Not only do I lack a blues background, but I also perform music that falls well outside of the blues idiom. Considering all of all of these differences, could the blues songs that I perform when I choose to still be viewed as authentic blues? Perhaps another label could sum up what I am doing musically. Perhaps the blues influenced music I play is more rightly considered as a modern extension of the blues, or could it be considered a new genre entirely? How much can the music be changed and still claim to be blues? With this thesis, I will seek to shed light on the question of blues and authenticity.

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7 So, what is it that determines what is meant by “authentic” blues, and what constitutes an “authentic” blues musician? Do race and social class qualify a musician as a true blues musician? Or is the term “bluesman” an archaic term that referred to a practitioner of an archaic form of popular music? Could this mean that the true spirit of the blues is something that is completely inaccessible to people born long after the time of its original popularity? To look at some of the arguments presented regarding blues authenticity, we must first understand what the term “authenticity” really means. The Oxford English dictionary offers several definitions for the term “authentic”. The first of the definitions offered is something of “undisputed origin and not a copy, genuine.” The second definition states that authenticity is “something made or done in the traditional or original way,” or “a way that faithfully resembles the original.” The next definition given defines authenticity as something “based on facts; accurate or reliable.” Many people have debated musical authenticity, and interpretations of musical authenticity have meant any number of things. An authentic performance could be, for instance, a Bach 2 Part Invention played on a piano playing the arrangement as written out. Someone else could argue that this performance isn’t a truly authentic performance because Bach wouldn’t have performed it on the piano, since the piano had not been perfected at the time. Another argument could be made that to perform the piece with justice it must be performed by an appropriately studied musician (i.e., someone trained). The argument could even be made that no performance could be considered entirely authentic. This is because, no matter how carefully notated the piece is or how much it is rehearsed by the performer, the piece will still be interpreted in the performer’s own way. Another factor that is often contributes to the authenticity of a performance is the use of period instruments (Sherman pg.1).

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8 In terms of blues music, the idea of what constitutes an “authentic” blues performer or an authentic interpretation of a blues piece could mean very different things. Many authorities will argue that since blues is a genre that is very much rooted in a certain time and place, that anyone playing this style who falls outside of the tradition couldn’t really be considered a “blues musician.” On the other hand, it has been argued that an authentic blues piece can be whatever the player, regardless of his or her own background and taste, wants it to be. For instance, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rock infused cover of bluesman Larry Davis’ “Texas Flood” is an authentic interpretation simply because it keeps the form of the original song intact. There are many purists within blues music who insist that the only way to truly produce an authentic take on blues music is to play the piece exactly as the piece was originally played by the artist (much in the same manner that someone would play a piece of classical guitar music.) Many of these performers will use instruments of the period or models of the same instruments used by the original performer (Sherman pg.1). There are musicians who will use this approach in a slightly more liberal fashion and perform their own compositions in the style of these performers. This approach could be considered authentic, in that it produces the music in the same manner as the original. However, it could be argued that this approach fails to qualify as being true to one’s character. Another argument is made debating the authenticity on the basis of the precision with which such arrangements are learned and copied. As mentioned earlier, many blues interpreters will approach playing a blues piece as almost akin to a classical piece. Every note is in it is played in a very specific place, and played exactly the same way every time. This technique might not qualify as being authentic when it is taken into account that the arrangement of a piece that exists on record was most likely just the way the artist decided to play that piece at that given time.

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9 One of the most prominent questions that has often been raised is to what extent race plays a role in the authenticity of blues music. Since blues music is essentially a product of culture, then how could someone who falls outside this culture truly create and contribute to this style? “Can white folks get the blues?” has been a question that has long been asked in regards to blues music, with widely differing answers, which will be discussed in one of the following sections. In addition to defining what is meant by the term authenticity, it is also important to understand what defines blues. The blues is often defined as a musical form. From this standpoint, the blues has a precise definition. The blues generally exists in 12 bars, although 8 bar and 14 bar blues do in fact exist and are still regarded as blues form. The form consists of the use of 4 different chords: the 1st chord or tonic chord, the tonic 7th chord, the subdominant and the dominant 7th chord. The 12 bar blues form generally ends on the dominant seventh. This is known as the turnaround, or the spot that indicates that the pattern is going to repeat. Blues music is also known for its use of “blue notes”. Blue notes are the flatted 3rd, flatted 5th, and flatted 7th scale degree that are associated with the blues scale. Blue notes can be a very tricky concept to understand, as most often these blue notes, although they are flatted, fall between the notes of our scale and are played flatter than one would expect. A good way to think about this is to imagine a blue note as one of the notes that you can’t play on the piano, since it falls in between adjacent keys. Like the blues in general, the blue notes can mean many things. A good description of the concept of blue notes is given by Peter Van Der Merwe. According to Van Der Merwe, one quality that all blue notes have in common is that they are flatter than one would expect, classically speaking. However, this flatness may take several forms. On the one hand, it may be a microtonal difference of a quarter tone or so. Here one may speak of neutral intervals, neither

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10 major nor minor. On the other hand, the flattening may be by a full semitone as it must be, of course, on keyboard instruments. It may involve a glide, either upward or downward. Again, this may be a microtonal, almost imperceptible affair, or it may be a slur between notes a semitone apart, so that there is actually not one blue note but two (Peter Van der Merwe pg.119). What Van der Merwe is trying to say is that the blue note can be anything in the space between the 3rds, 5ths and 7ths, and that these “in between” notes give the blues scale its distinctive sound of being neither major nor minor. The 12 bar blues is a very fundamental pattern to American music, and is certainly not just exclusive to blues. The 12 bar form can be found in rock, country music, gospel, jazz and many other styles, so defining something as “blues” purely by the chord structure becomes problematic. For instance, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode” and “No Particular Place to Go” both are 12 bar blues in structure (Doll pg15). According to Author Elijah Wald, “Even the most basic 12 bar blues may get classified as folk, jazz, or funk (Wald pg.5). The term “blues” that is used to define this chord structure, is generally credited to American Composer W.C. Handy in his famous composition “St. Louis Blues”. Although W.C. Handy made this term very popular, the idea of blues predated his music. Handy himself stated that the inspiration for this song came from an experience he had waiting at a train station. The story follows as such. A Lean Loose Jointed Negro had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept. His cloths were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song stuck with me instantly. “Goin’ where the southern cross the dog.” The Singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself with some of the weirdest music I had ever heard (Wald pg 8).

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11 WC Handy’s description of this musician and his style bears an almost exact resemblance to the common image of a Delta or Texas blues man. This story also illustrates that solo blues guitarists and singers in the vein of Blind Lemon Jefferson may have existed long before Jefferson was recorded in 1925. The blues form has its roots in the music of the late 19th and early 20th century. The form has been influenced by such diverse genres as minstrel, spirituals, ragtime, African influences, and even some of the European influenced music that could be heard at the time. Clearly, the blues existed before it had a label. Although most people associate this form with the Handy composition, “St. Louise Blues”, this was by no means the first blues published. The first use of this pattern (as well as the term “blues”), occurred in 1908 in New Orleans. The first published piece of blues music was titled “I’ve Got the Blues,” and the composer was an Italian American by the name of Antonio Maggio (Wald pg. 16). The composer described this piece as an “Up to Date Rag” (Wald pg.16). As the title would suggest, “Got the Blues” utilizes the 12 bar blues pattern that was later made famous by W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”. The basic blues form has been through many changes since its inception. After W. C. Handy’s popularity, the blues became a Vaudevillian style of music, performed by the “Blues Queens”, the female blues singers such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainy, Mamie Smith and others. Some people would technically consider much of what these “Blues Queens” recorded as more of a pop style due to its more complex chord structure (Wald pg.20). The performers of this style were professional and polished performers who sang songs about betrayal, lost love and sex. From the mid 1920s to the 1940s, the image and style of what was known as blues shifted from polished female blues singers, to predominantly male dominated solo acoustic style with much less polish and much simpler arrangements. A large part of this transition was the popularity of

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12 music recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson in the mid 1920s. After the end of World War II, the growing availability of electricity, and the large exodus of African Americans from the Delta to large cities such as Chicago initiated a great change in blues. Blues became known as predominantly an ensemble style usually lead by the electric guitar, and with more incorporations of jazz technique and stricter adherence to the 12 bar patterns. Blues music from the 1920s onward is categorized as simply popular music that couldn’t be categorized as jazz or spiritual music, played by African Americans (Wald pg. 34). The music included in the catchall term “the blues” includes many subgenres as well. For example, there is the more ragtime influenced Piedmont blues of artists such as Blind Blake and Pink Anderson. Certain early jazz recordings such as select records made by Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbeck and Lonnie Johnson have been classified as blues as well. Certain African American folk singers such as Lead Belly, whose repertoire did in fact contain a good deal of recognizable blues is commonly categorized as blues. Texas songsters such as Lightning Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, who were both known for guitar parts that featured the traditional Dead Thumb monotonic bass patterns, are most always categorized as simply blues. Pre blues music including African American banjo traditions recorded by Papa Charley Jackson are now categorized as blues. Even a good bit of the early rock and roll music recorded by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley has been lumped together as blues. Usually, it is agreed that blues music is a predominantly African American art form – an art form derived from the African American experience during the early part of the 20th century. If this is the case, then where does that leave the many current Caucasian interpreters? Also, where does this leave the white musicians who played blues music during the heyday of Chicago blues? Where does this leave white performers who played in a style similar to the piedmont blues

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13 musicians of the Carolinas? In this project essay, I would like to develop an understanding of what it means to be a non traditional blues musician. Debunking Robert Johnson and Other False Blues Mystifications Blues music has been at the center of our American musical heritage since its introduction in the early part of the 20th century. The influence of this music can still be felt today in modern pop, rock, and even occasionally in the work of modern composers such as John Zorn. Not only is blues important as a style of music, but the legend and mythology of the blues has played a very important role culturally. The mention of the term blues draws up such romantic images as Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads, or Muddy Waters’ rise from his beginnings as a Mississippi sharecropper to a full blown Chicago blues celebrity. Since romantic imagery is so intertwined with our idea of the blues, the question must be asked as to how much these potentially false mystifications of artists play into our concept of authenticity. To an extent, the mythology surrounding certain performers of music is something that adds to its appeal. One of the best examples of this was virtuoso violinist Nicolo Paganini, who was often portrayed as selling his soul to the devil to obtain his inimitable virtuosity on the violin. Members of the band Led Zeppelin were also believed to have sold their souls in return for musical fame. Creating these images can create a sense of danger and seduction that can attract fans and listeners to the music. Blues, with its association with such illicit activities of the time such as gambling, drinking and womanizing made it easy for this kind of mystification to occur. For instance, guitarist and pianist Petie Wheatstraw claimed to be the devil’s son in law,

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14 and Tommy Johnson (not Robert Johnson) claimed to have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. If researched enough, it becomes clear that much of the information that exists regarding classic bluesmen such as Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson etc. is extremely biased. The classic era of country blues – much like grunge, disco, or the British Invasion – was simply a musical fad. This fad started when Blind Lemon Jefferson’s records became popular around 1926, proving that a solo guitar player and singer could sell “race” records and make a profit for the record label. Like many other musical crazes, the record labels tried to release as many records as they could by similar solo guitar playing artists. For this reason, almost all that is known about many of these artists is largely derived from their recordings and the information disseminated by the records labels during these periods. Since there were very poor records kept for many African Americans during the early part of the 20th century, much genuine biographical knowledge about these musicians is completely lost. It is important for people to realize that these recorded works represented only a very small portion of the musicians’ actual repertoire. These recording artists often had repertoires that include jazz song, popular numbers of the day, ballads, etc. (Miller pg.1). Pianist Roosevelt Sykes talked in detail about using a large repertoire to relate to different types of audiences and different types of musicians. “Well by me associating with different musicians and by me being a traveler and folks [giving me music] in all parts of the country. I done play a little like the Memphians, little like the Chicagoians(sic), play a little like the Vicksburg Mississippians, play a little bit like the Texans, a little Western stuff, just whatsoever, well, do a little jazz of the New Orleans style. See I had a variety which I do have now, you know (Miller pg. 72).

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15 Sykes’ anecdotes about having a large repertoire suggest that blues musicians were not at all limited to a blues repertoire. Not only that, but they were multifaceted performers who could play in whatever style the audience was looking for. Knowing the variety of songs they did was a sort of “professionalism” that allowed them to maximize their profit margins. Since the blues that they sang was then on the cusp of popular music, and this was the audience that they were marketing to, this was most of the music that was recorded by them. In many ways, the personas that were put on by many of these musicians were in many ways shaped by the audiences and record labels more than the performers themselves. In many cases the only known documentations of these musicians were just 2 or 3 sides recorded on scratchy records. Much of the roots of these myths regarding the blues and its players lies in the 1960s. During this time, many English musicians were discovering American blues recordings made from the 1920s on. Robert Johnson became a very popular artist among English blues musicians. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was an avid fan of Robert Johnson (Ainsley pg.1). Eric Clapton even went so far as to call Robert Johnson the most important blues musician who ever lived (Ainsley pg.1). Eric Clapton was also famous for covering Johnson’s signature song “Crossroad Blues”. Because so little biographical information existed on Johnson, he was a mystery. His untimely death at the age of 27, the same age as such rock stars as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain further added to his mystique. Elijah Wald in his book Escaping the Delta describes Robert Johnson’s ego as being something of a projection. Wald states that Robert Johnson served as a doorway into a different time and culture for the white English musicians that listened to him. His anonymity allowed these musicians to apply their own views and superstitions. In fact, Robert Johnson himself never claimed to have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads.

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16 Robert Johnson’s music was recorded in just two sessions, one in 1936 and the other in 1937 (Ainsley pg. 2). It is of interest to note that the period that Robert Johnson made these records was after the popularity of country blues had begun to wane. At this point, interest in country blues had cooled. Possibly as a result, much of Robert Johnson’s music never generated much of a following during its time. Although “Terraplane Blues” became somewhat of a regional hit, and sold around 5000 copies (Ainsley pg.2), the rest of Robert Johnson’s music remained unreleased and more or less forgotten until decades later (Ainsley pg.2). Elijah Wald argues that “As far as the evolution of Black music goes, Robert Johnson was an extremely minor figure, and very little that happened in the decades following his death would have been affected if he had never played a note." (Wald Pg.3). In this regard it is very interesting to think that a musician who is now considered by many to be “the most important blues artist who ever lived”, and the “king of the Delta blues” was utterly obscure in the world of country blues during his lifetime. In recent years, more light has been shed onto the mysterious life of Robert Johnson. Part of this has come through interviewing musicians who traveled with Johnson such as Robert Jr. Lockwood, Johnny Shines and David Honeyboy Edwards. They all seem to portray Johnson as a street smart loner, who tended to abruptly disappear from areas without any warnings (Wald pg.36). Robert Jr. Lockwood, whose mother had at one time been married to Robert Johnson, talked in detail about Johnson’s musical skills. Lockwood claimed that Johnson possessed the ability to hear a song one time, even while having a conversation, and play the song back note for note days later (Ainsley pg.2). Johnson was noted by several sources as being a somewhat shy individual. Johnson reportedly did not like to play in front of people, and when asked to play a song for a group of other musicians, turned toward the wall so his face couldn’t be seen, or his technique deciphered (Ainsley pg.3). Some of these practices may very well have contributed to his mysterious reputation.

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17 This newfound knowledge of Johnson shows that, more than anything, he was little more than a regular person. One who was very talented and mysterious, but a mere man nonetheless. This goes a long way towards lending credibility to the authenticity of modern blues interpreters. Proving that much of what is known about Johnson is myth makes it clear that he really was not very different at all from anyone playing the style today. He was more than anything a talented musician, who like everyone else at the time, borrowed extensively from the repertoires of other blues artists of his day as well as other popular music of the day. Much of Johnson’s success and status is really a case of being in the right place at the right time. Not maybe the right time or place to have made a fortune during his short life, but the right place and right time to be forgotten for just long enough to become something of a deity of blues music. A look at Robert Johnson’s current repertoire also helps to cement him as a normal musician. It has been stated before that Robert Johnson was a precursor to the 60s rock stars. He lived his life fast, had many affairs, recorded some classic material, and died young. As mentioned earlier the fact that he died at the age of 27, same as Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimmy Hendrix. This comparison of Robert Johnson to sixties rock stars is also valid on a musical level. A look at Johnson’s playing technique and repertoire also add to this comparison. Robert Johnson was essentially doing what bands like the Rolling Stones or the Animals, or musicians like Eric Clapton did in the sixties. Johnson took in the influence of older blues musicians who came before him and crafted it into his own unique style, while keeping his influences easily recognizable in his playing. In many ways, the fact that Robert Johnson so overtly copied the music of such other blues artists as Son House, Scrapper Blackwell and Skip James, might have been what made him so popular with the younger blues musicians. Robert Johnson’s music acted as the gateway of

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18 sorts to the largely unknown world of country blues in much the same way that someone like Lead Belly did for the world of Folk music. “Hellhound on my Trail” and “32 20 Blues” were copies of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and “22 20 Blues.” “Preaching Blues” and “Walking Blues” were both covers of Son House. “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “Love in Vain” come from pieces by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. One of Johnsons best known compositions, “Sweet Home Chicago”, was an adaptation of Scrapper Blackwell’s “Kokomo Blues” which in turn was an adaptation of Slide Guitarist Kokomo Arnold’s “New Kokomo Blues”. The actual lyric of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” was lifted from a Kokomo Arnold piece (Wald 2004). “Malted Milk” and “Drunken Hearted Man” were Johnson’s attempts at songs in the style of blues/jazz guitarist Lonnie Johnson. Robert Johnson even claimed to have referred to himself on occasion as Lonnie Johnson Jr. (Wald pg.41) and was able to back it up with near perfect imitations of his single string style. Because of these references, listening to Robert Johnson’s music was almost like listening to sort of a “Best Of” compilation of popular blues of his day. Johnson’s actual approach to music lends credibility to modern interpreters of the style. Johnson is in fact doing the exact same thing that a modern interpreter of blues would be doing. He’s paying tribute to the artists who have influenced him, and giving an overview of the music played in this specific time and genre. He is also creating completely original and authentic compositions that, while referencing the styles of previous players, stand alone as authentic compositions of their own. Modern interpreters could in some ways view what they are doing as continuing in the musical tradition of Robert Johnson. The case of Robert Johnson also shows the degree to which myths play into perceived authenticity. When one first hears of Robert Johnson, or even the blues in general, he or she automatically conjures up the romantic images surrounding Johnson and others of his day. This may subsequently lead to the belief that this

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19 music and these people can never be matched in terms of authenticity today. Peeling back these myths and revealing Johnson in a more realistic light helps to show that even the most mythical figures of the blues, may not be any more authentic than any other musicians in the genre. Blues as a Marketing Term One of the easiest ways to define the term “blues” is simply as a label—much like the tags that are glued onto records to show which section of the store to place them. There are many examples that support this argument. For instance, much of the music that we think of as classic blues was released as what was known as “Race Records.” These were records that were specifically marketed towards African American audiences. African American artists who recorded these “race” records, were musicians who played vastly different styles, anywhere from jazz, fingerpicked ragtime guitar, Boogie Woogie piano and other various styles. The one thing that these artists have in common is not necessarily the music’s reliance on blues chord structure. This is especially true looking at the music recorded by John Lee Hooker, Fred McDowell and Junior Kimbrough, much of which consists of only one or two chords. It is mainly due to the fact these records were made by African Americans that marks them as blues. It seems that if blues is really defined as anything, the term “blues” could simply be a marketing term. A term that allowed music recorded by African American artists to be more marketable among African American record buyers. This allows for many of these musicians with vastly differing musical styles to find common ground in a core audience. Musical exchanges and interactions certainly existed between blues musicians and musicians of different styles. It is known that many of the famed blues musicians of the 20s and 30s actively

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20 played songs such as Tin Pan Alley pop, as well as Broadway hits (Miller pg. 97). Many white artists of the time did the same thing. It is also notable that the golden era of acoustic blues was something of a recording trend. When sides recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson sold very well, particularly among African Americans, the record companies realized that these “race records” could generate revenue for the labels marketing them. Soon, due to Jefferson’s popularity, record labels began recording and marketing sides recorded by similar guitar players and singers. Since blues was at the time on the cutting edge of African American popular music, almost all of what was recorded were the songs in this style. Many of the recorded musicians actively played other pieces such as the popular songs of the day, there are even reports of Texas blues musicians of the day playing Mexican Folk Ballads (Miller pg. 61). One of the most common of these musicians being unfairly lumped in with blues is Leadbelly. When researching information on Lead Belly’s music, it is often categorized as blues music. While there is certainly a portion of music that Leadbelly recorded that does qualify as blues, this is only a small portion of the music he recorded and knew. Lead Belly reached notoriety with his considerable repertoire of pre blues musical styles (Barker, Hugh pg.8). His styles included blues, minstrel tunes, work songs, and many others. Lead Belly was discovered by John and Allen Lomax, who had worked to get him released from prison in 1934 (Barker, Hugh pg.9). It is very interesting to note that Leadbelly’s popularity was solely limited to white audiences. The few race Records that had been recorded and released by Lead Belly sold very poorly. According to Hugh’s and Barker in their book Faking It “Although Leadbelly had considerable talents – a powerful, dynamic, expressive voice; a resonant, confident, and energetic guitar style; a prodigious musical memory; an astonishingly varied and rich repertoire; a strong sense of rhythm – His songs didn’t swing (Barker, Hugh pg.9). ”This lack of swing meant that

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21 Leadbelly’s music had little in common with the more sophisticated rhythms of popular African American music at the time. Another interesting misclassification of blues music comes from the fingerstyle guitarist Mississippi John Hurt. John Hurt’s first records were originally recorded by OKeh Records’ producer Tommy Rockwell in 1928 (Barker, Hugh pg.32). John Hurt and his music certainly share similarities to the blues artists of the time. John Hurt was a 35 year old African American tenant farmer, who played and sang over solo guitar. Hurt uses a very clear blues form in many of his songs such as “Monday Morning Blues”. In fact these blues songs were recorded at the insistence of Rockwell (Baker, Hugh pg.35). Although Hurt has his blues influences, his guitar style is more rooted in ragtime music (Baker, Hugh pg. 35) with a style of alternating bass patterns (a technique that would later come to be known as “Travis picking” in country music) that was unusual in the realm of the blues (although, this technique had been sometimes used by blues players such as Blind Lemon Jefferson). Mississippi John Hurt also never played any bent notes. It has also been noted that Hurt’s alternating bass style very closely resembles early country guitar pioneer Sam McGee. Okeh Records were in fact planning to release Hurt’s music as “Hillbilly” music, a genre that was almost exclusively white. When Okeh records actually published John Hurt’s sides, they released them as “race records” and “Mississippi” was added to his name as a sales gimmick (Baker, Hugh pg.35). What Makes a Blues Musician? So, what defines a musician as a blues musician, as opposed to a jazz or rock musician? What is it about a musician’s style or cultural or economic background that contributes to the labeling? How much do these labels limit their performances, and how much of their music can be classified under this label?

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22 The question of what a blues musician actually is seems like an obvious question. A blues musician is quite obviously someone who plays blues. When considered in depth, this question becomes a lot more complicated. Most of us by now have some type of image of a blues musician in their mind. What makes these musicians different from say someone who plays jazz, or who plays rock? There have been many arguments as to what this really means. As stated earlier by Elijah Wald, the blues was essentially a catchall term to describe anyone who was African American, who recorded before the 1950s and couldn’t be classified as either jazz, gospel etc. (Wald pg.9). An interesting argument regarding what constitutes a blues musician is made by Wade Fox and Richard Greene in their article “12 Bar Zombies”. In this article they first talk about philosopher Socrates’s claim that if one could not provide an airtight and Counter example proof of a term, one did not know what the term meant (Fox, Greene, “12 bar Zombies” pg. 31.). Meaning that it could be argued that if we don’t have an exacting definition of a “blues artist” than we don’t understand what is meant by the term. A counter argument to this claim of needing a set definition is presented by comparing one’s idea of a blues musician to Wittgenstein’s Theory of Languages, presented in his Philosophical Investigations. In this theory, Wittgenstein argues “that language functions in a variety of ways that, while similar to one another, are to reducible not to a single function; rather they are a ‘complicated network of similarities, overlapping and crisscrossing” (Fox, Greene, “12 Bar Zombies” pg. 32). The argument that the authors are trying to make is that different languages have parts that are related and that describe similar concepts. However, these parts can’t be fully translated. Therefore, similar descriptions in languages can’t be interpreted as an equation of term X = term Y, but more of as an approximation. These approximations mean that languages don’t exist as exact conversions, but as a complex web of intertwined relations. These intertwined relations essentially mean

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23 that you can know what something is without knowing an exact definition or set of guidelines. The article relates this to the music as saying that all blues artists are going to share some defining features, but these features are loosely defined and a blues artist can exhibit some of the overall qualities of the genre without conforming wholly to the definition. Roosevelt Sykes, a highly influential blues pianist from Helena, Arkansas once said that “blues is like a doctor” (Miller pg.72). “A doctor studies medicine, of course he ain’t sick, but he studies to help people. A blues player ain’t got no blues, but he plays for the worried people.” (Miller pg. 72) What Sykes doctor analogy is trying to point out is that blues musicians, like any other musician or entertainer have to cater to their audience. If the audience wants to hear blues songs, than the performer will indulge them. There have been many examples were non blues musicians will play blues music, or vice versa. Some of the best examples of this come from looking at the incorporations of the blues repertoire by many English rock musicians. The Rolling Stones, who were named after the Muddy Waters song “Rolling Stone” by Brian Jones, started out as purely a blues band. Originally, the Rolling Stones were little more than a group of friends wanting to do covers of their favorite blues songs. Many of Led Zeppelin’s songs (at least lyrically) were direct copies of classic blues songs. Their famous “When the Levee Breaks” was a re write and rearrangement of a song by Memphis Minnie, and their “The Lemon Song” directly quotes Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”. In addition, much of Jimmy Page’s lead guitar, especially his slide playing, was greatly influenced by blues musicians. Eric Clapton while in the group Cream borrowed extensively from the blues repertoire. Clapton’s guitar solo on “Strange Brew” is a note for note copy of an Albert King guitar solo. Cream also had notable covers of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues” and Skip James’ “I’m So Glad”.

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24 Even though all these musicians recorded music that was undeniably blues based, none of these musicians are ever classified as being authentic blues musicians. Most people would lump all their music into the rock genre. This approach of categorization makes sense, because the majority of the music recorded by the groups mentioned falls well outside of the blues tradition. However, who is to say that some of the music recorded by these artists couldn’t qualify as authentic blues? While the Rolling Stones played much music greatly influenced and informed by blues music, their music is still classified as rock. However, on their Album Beggars Banquet the Rolling Stones recorded a cover version of Rev. Robert Wilkins’ “The Prodigal Son”. The recording of this is a faithful cover of the original recording, consisting of little more than Mick Jagger’s vocals, Keith Richards’ open tuned, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and Charley Watts playing minimalist Percussion. While this is certainly on a rock album, what is to say that this song isn’t an authentic blues song? As mentioned previously, the Oxford English dictionary states that authenticity could be defined as “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features”, or something that “is made or done in the same way as an original”. By these definitions, the Rolling Stones cover of “The Prodigal Son” is an authentic blues recording, as it fits both of these definitions. The song clearly reproduces essential features in that it is clearly recognizable as the same song, and it is played in basically the same arrangement on similar acoustic instruments. When looking at it as such, it becomes clear that rock musicians are quite capable of creating authentic blues music. Blues in the Modern Era One of the questions that I was hoping to answer in my thesis is how, if at all, blues music can survive in the modern era. Can blues music still be regarded as a growing and developing genre,

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25 or is it instead something of a stagnant art form from a bygone era? Can blues music even exist today given that much of the culture that gave birth to it no longer exists? Blues music in modern times is a very interesting phenomenon. Much like jazz music today (excluding some fusion), it can be viewed as a stagnant art form, filled with covers of songs from a particular era with little to no innovation. There are modern interpreters of blues styles, such as Roy Bookbinder and Paul Geremia, who perform in the style of 1920 30s Piedmont blues. Many of these musicians perform classic blues pieces in the same manner as the original artists. Although these musicians often perform their own original compositions, they fall very much into the style of the country blues musicians that influenced them. It has been stated that blues may simply have been a passing phenomenon. Paul Oliver in his article “ Looking Back at Looking forward” stated that the blues wouldn’t be able to survive the 1960s. “It is unlikely that the blues will survive through the imitations of the young white college copyists, the ‘Urban blues Singers’ whose relation to the blues is that of the ‘trad’ jazz band to the music of New Orleans: sterile and derivative. The bleak prospect is that the blues probably has no real future; that as folk music, it served its purpose and flourished while it had meaning among African Americans. At the end of the century, it may well be seen as an important cultural phenomenon, and someone will make a study of it, too late” (Oliver pg. 285). Though his article is at this point very out of date (since it misses what is now over five decades of music), it raises some very important questions. Many outside observers note that blues could be considered a “sterile and derivative” art form because much of the cultural conditions that lead to the creation of the blues no longer exist. Much of the subject matter that is prevalent in blues music is something that doesn’t exist to the extent to which it did at the time. Joel Rudinow in his article “Talking to Myself Again” agrees that removing the blues from its

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26 cultural conditions, effectively destroys the blues’ existence. The result being music that is “derivative and sterile.” Rudinow contests Oliver’s statement by citing that in the 21st century, blues has become a thriving industry. He points to such actions as the creation of the W.C. Handy Awards, the House of Blues restaurant chain, and the worldwide talent searches for the latest blues talent. I personally agree with Oliver’s opinion that the blues was essentially a passing phase in African American popular music. Many modern interpreters will play music that was recorded from periods (such as country blues from the 1920s to the mid 1930s). These performers will go to great lengths to replicate the playing style and performance qualities of the original performers. Many modern interpreters will even go to lengths to try to obtain instruments used by the original artists. I would indeed view much of this as derivative, however, I don’t feel that Oliver’s argument was an accurate prediction. The blues has changed significantly since Oliver’s time. Though I agree with the point that there will be derivative and sterile interpreters of the music, Oliver failed to predict the changes and modernization that have occurred in the blues. For instance, Oliver failed to predict the blues rock craze that occurred thanks to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Although it is often argued that many of these performers, such as Steve Ray Vaughn himself are more “rock” musicians than they are blues musicians. Oliver also failed to predict the blues revival that occurred in the 1990s with the help of such labels as Fat Possum. During this period, numerous blues interpreters from areas of Mississippi, many of whom actually had the opportunity to learn from original blues masters started to come out of the woodwork. Another point that Oliver fails to see regarding the growth of the blues is the ability of music to adapt to trends and remain a viable art form, even when it has been altered from its original

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27 form. Take rock music for instance. Rock music was a style of music derived from such artists as Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Screaming Jay Hawkins. Much like the blues, rock was a musical genre that was very much rooted in the time period of its originators. We can all probably admit that rock today is still a thriving genre. Though rock music today is a long way away from artists such as Chuck Berry, it is still in the same tradition. Rock music has found ways to adapt to cultural change, to new technology, and even to changes in social conditions. Blues music has responded in much the same way as rock music. Blues music has proved to be an adaptable musical form. The invention of the electric guitar, and the migration of many African Americans to larger social centers such as Chicago changed the music, yet blues music continued. I think that Oliver’s statement that blues music wouldn’t survive into the 1960’s is analogous to saying something like rock and roll wouldn’t survive into the 1960’s. This statement could have seemed like a possibility at the time due to the decline in rock and roll popularity that occurred between the late 1950s to early 1960s following such events as the deaths of such musicians as Buddy Holly and the arrest of Chuck Berry. One very interesting exception to this comes from the North Mississippi Hill Country region – a region in Mississippi that historically never contained any major white owned plantations. This region was also famous for being the home of musician Othar Turner, one of the very last remaining players of American fife and drum music. According to Mathew Joseph, the North Mississippi Hill Country region has the last remaining fife and drum tradition and one of the last active blues scenes in Mississippi (Joseph pg.84). This region of Mississippi is noted for its distinctive, hypnotic, droning, rhythmic style of blues. Much of the blues that has come from this area is very different in form from almost any other style of blues. In fact, from a musical standpoint, very little of what is played would be regarded

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28 as a simple 12 bar blues categorizing (not to say that this form isn’t used in this style). Many of the songs that are played consist of little more than one or two chords, with a heavy rhythmic emphasis. One of the most notable examples of this style is Junior Kimbrough. Many of his best known songs, such as “All Night Long,” and “Meet Me in the City” consist of little more than two chords. This lack of chord changes and multiple overlaid polyrhythms sounds much more like African music than most other styles of blues. Another interesting aspect of this style of music is how late much of it was recorded with regards to other historic blues trends. Much of the exposure of this music to mass audiences came through the releases on North Mississippi based Record label Fat Possum Records in the 1990s. During the 90s, Fat Possum released records by such artists as Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and T Model Ford. These artists were noted for both there surprisingly traditional country blues roots, played through distorted amplifiers and delivered with a passion that hadn’t been heard on a blues record for years. R.L. Burnside in particular made a great effort to keep his style of blues as modern as possible. One of R.L. Burnside’s most controversial albums of this period in the 90s was his release Come on In Come on In attempted to set R.L.s gritty, driving style of blues to techno influenced electronica. In R.L. Burnside’s own words, “blues ain’t nothin’ (sic) but dance music”. Come on In received very polarizing reviews. Some praised the record for its ability to add techno and electronica beats, yet have the result be so undeniably bluesy. Others saw this as simply a watering down of R.L. Burnside’s style in hopes of creating some sort of commercial crossover effort. In spite of these reviews, Come on In tracks “It’s Bad You know” and “Rolling and Tumbling (remix)” were both subsequently used on the then popular television series The Sopranos. Slightly more recently some songs from Come on In as well as tracks from Burnside’s blues punk collaboration with white indie rockers the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion were used in scenes for the television show Eastbound and Down (Joseph pg. 97). R.L. Burnside

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29 at one point even had a music video on M.T.V (Joseph pg. 97). These examples of Burnside’s music appearing in popular media helped to push a new wave of blues to popularity. Although blues in modern times is viewed as a stagnant art by such authorities as Paul Oliver, the influence of classic blues on modern music is still very strong. Ever since the British invasion, blues has influenced the majority of electric guitar players in some way. The style of single string lead lines first popularized by guitarist Lonnie Johnson in the 20s and 30s is still an essential part of modern rock playing. In the 90s and early 2000s, the White Stripes and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have kept this influence alive by injecting their Indie Rock sounds with very overt blues influences. Another interesting example of this phenomenon is the recent popularity of blues/Indie Rock duo The Black Keys. The Black Keys’ music has always had a very heavy blues emphasis. They recorded on modern blues label Fat Possum records (same label who helped to launch the careers of R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough), and usually included some very traditional covers. They even recorded an EP of songs originally written and recorded by Junior Kimbrough. They even went so far as to name this EP Chulahoma, as a reference to Chulahoma Mississippi, the location of Junior Kimbrough’s famous Juke Joint. Addressing the argument for traditional blues experiences one can look at the evolution of the blues music. Chicago and urban blues, which developed out of the traditional acoustic blues, placed much less emphasis on such rural hardships of sharecropping and other hardships faced by African Americans in Texas or the Mississippi delta, although these themes are most certainly still present in the music. With the blues’ shift to more urban settings the themes in the music started to shift more towards hardships of city life. This change in subject matter proved that the blues was something that could be updated with the times. Another big change that took place was the image regarding the performers. Blues performers fashioned themselves as

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30 suave, polished performers. Tampa Red, one of the first Chicago blues musicians, was famous for his expensive suits and his use of a, what was at the time state of the art, reso phonic National Steel guitar (something that would have been quite expensive at the time). This was a far cry away from rough images of the previous country blues performers. Chicago blues was also notable for having a great deal of participation by white musicians. One of the best examples of this was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a band that consisted of mainly white musicians with only two of its members being African American. Blues Music and Race The link between blues music and race has been debated for a long time. Many people believe that the blues is fundamentally a style that came from the social and economic struggles of African Americans of the early 19th century. For this reason, is it possible for someone who doesn’t come from an African American background to truly play authentic blues music? The idea of developing race records would have made it unlikely for white musicians recording a in a similar style to have their music marketed as blues music. Much of the music recorded by white musicians was marketed as either Hillbilly or Country. So for this reason blues records would have been recorded by almost exclusively African Americans. There are some interesting exceptions to this however. One of the best examples of this was the blues and jazz sides recorded by guitarist Lonnie Johnson with Eddie Lang. Eddie Lang was a guitar player of Italian American ancestry. Lang was perhaps more well known for his jazz sides and his role as an accompanist for Bing Crosby. Despite this, Lang recorded on an impressive number of influential blues sides such as Bessie Smith’s “Kitchen Man” and numerous sides with influential African American guitarist Lonnie Johnson, such as “Guitar Blues” and “A Handful of

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31 Riffs” (www.eddielang.com). These early recordings of Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson are credited with pioneering the use of the guitar as a lead instrument and playing single notes, a technique which is used by almost every blues guitarist today. Lang was one of the few musicians who was well known for playing on race records as well as popular songs of the day. When Lang recorded with Lonnie Johnson, he often credited himself as Blind Willie Dunn and his Gin Bottle Four to hide the fact that he was a Caucasian performer. Another important crossover artist was the famed “Singing Brakeman” Jimmy Rogers. While most people consider Rogers to be the “Father of Country Music,” Jimmy Rogers, made many contributions to blues music (including his famous yodeling vocals) and utilized the 12 bar format in many of his songs. Even today, it is still debated whether Jimmy Rogers should be considered a country blues artist or not. Many of his recordings bear more than a passing resemblance to the blues sides of Blind Lemon Jefferson. In fact, Rogers was born in Mississippi and worked as a brakeman for the railroad, (hence he was marketed as the Singing Brakeman). Much of the music that Rogers initially learned to play was country blues by African American railroad workers with whom he worked (Miller pg.57). Race has played a role in the way that blues music was marketed even more recently. The “discovery” of a new generation of blues musicians in the North Mississippi Hill region sparked a resurgence of the genre. Much of this movement came about through indie record Label Fat Possum Records. Fat Possum Records was a label started in 1991 by Matthew Johnson and Peter Redvers Lee with money from a student loan (Joseph pg. 96). Fat Possum Records sought to record these rediscovered blues musicians and market them to the world. While some albums were released to great critical acclaim, such as Junior Kimbrough’s All Night Long and R.L. Burnsides Too Bad Jim they didn’t generate enough revenue to make money for the label

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32 (Joseph pg.96). To generate more money and a wider audience, Mathew Johnson changed the way that he marketed their music. The first change was the collaboration of blues musicians with younger, Caucasian indie rock groups. The best example of this sort of fusion was R.L. Burnside’s album An Ass Pocket of Whiskey, which was recorded with the white Indie punk blues group the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (Joseph pg. 97). In addition to the collaborations with young, hip indie rock groups, the way the blues artists themselves were portrayed was changed as well. Much of this marketing opted to portray these bluesmen in the form of older racial stereotypes. Musicians such as R.L. Burnside and Kimbrough were portrayed in the liner notes of their albums as macho hyper sexual black men who were just as dangerous as they were talented (Joseph 97). Liner notes made specific references to events such as R.L. Burnsides time spent in prison for killing a man in cold blood (an event that actually involved R.L. Burnside shooting someone out of self defense) (Joseph pg. 97). Junior Kimbrough was depicted as a moonshiner, who threw wild parties, and who regularly went to jail for driving intoxicated, and fathering upwards of 36 children (Joseph Pg. 98). The interesting thing is that many of the artists, such as R.L. Burnside and Kimbrough, though certainly with a good bit of reluctance, didn’t do anything to dispel these images simply because these personas helped them to earn more money than they had previously (Joseph. 98). This is almost analogous to the way John and Alan Lomax portrayed Leadbelly as something of A “Noble Savage” to the white audiences, and added to this mystique by making references to his previous murder charges and encouraging him to perform wearing prison stripes. Ultimately, I would say that race seems to play more of a role in marketing music than in deciding who can actually perform it. Many of the images that we recognize regarding what a blues musician actually is seems to have been fabricated by the record labels to try to earn the artists a larger following. It would seem that much of the musicians in this period regardless of

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33 race played music of similar material. For instance, white guitarist Riley Puckett who is now most famous for his recordings with Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers, played in multiple genre’s to appeal to what ever audience was listening. As a street performer, Puckett called on a vast number of genre’s and styles such as blues, minstrel songs, ragtime and popular numbers (Miller pg. 63). Conclusions After the research and performance of this project, I have reached something of a conclusion of my own regarding the authenticity of this music. I would say that more or less anyone who wants to perform blues music can perform it regardless of race, class, or even musical background. Since many of the original recording artists of blues played music that was outside of the blues genre, then it should be much the same for anyone playing predominantly blues music today. For instance anyone who considers himself or herself a blues guitarist could still play a jazz or rock piece authentically. Similarly, a rock guitarist could play an authentic blues piece. I think that this certainly lends credibility to the music I play. I can play lead guitar in the Antiquarians, and still classify myself as a blues musician. Another revelation for me occurred when I noticed that what I thought of as blues had changed over the course of this project. For instance, when I first became interested in blues guitar, I learned the songs of Mississippi John Hurt. Hurt, as discussed earlier in this essay is more classifiable as ragtime, or even hillbilly, than blues (Hugh Baker pg.35). Much of the music that I was most interested in playing at the time (imitating players such as Blind Blake, Rev. Gary

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34 Davis, and John Hurt) could more accurately be described as ragtime. All of these musicians recorded “blues” songs; however, they didn’t make blues their specialty. An important discovery for me was the extent to which audience and marketing come into play in labeling music as blues. I prefer that the term blues be defined much more loosely. I would apply the term to anyone who plays blues. When someone is performing a blues song with musical competence and understanding, I would regard them as a blues musician, if even for just for that one song. In the same way, a musician who predominantly plays blues in addition to other genres of music (for instance a blues musician playing a rock and roll or country song, etc.) could be considered a musician of whatever genre the piece they are playing. All musicians regardless of race, class or background play music with other musicians. This can lead to influences that encompass multiple genres. This is what Roosevelt Sykes was talking about earlier when he claimed that musicians have to play what the audience wants. If an audience wants to hear blues then the musician who is performing can adopt the role of a blues musician. I would say that I certainly have the right to consider myself a blues musician, when I play blues music for an audience wanting to hear blues music. However, I wouldn’t really consider myself a blues musician when I am playing heavy metal riffs in my band, the Antiquarians, or when I am playing country music with friends. Finally, it seems to me that blues is little more than a tag. While much of the music in blues does contain stylistic similarities, the term is ultimately a marketing strategy. The whole idea of blues music stems from the “race records” sold in the 20s and 30s, which were performed by and marketed towards African American audiences. Much of my research indicates that many of the classic bluesmen discussed in this project were just normal musicians, who were simply trying to make music that would fit with what was popular at the time. One reason for branding

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35 these musicians as bluesmen, was simply to provide their music with a built in audience. As discussed earlier, many players like Mississippi John Hurt, whose music sounded more like hillbilly music that blues, was labeled as blues simply due to race. Blues songs made up only a portion of these players repertoire; however, much of this music wasn’t recorded because it wasn’t seen as marketable. Blues music as a genre is often associated with race. It is widely considered to be music born out of the financial and social struggles of African Americans. This view, while valid, is overly narrow. This view leaves out the musical influences from white performers. It also excludes white musicians who were just as influential musically as their African American counterparts were (good examples being jazz/blues guitarist Eddie Lang or Jimmy Rogers). In addition, as stated before, this view of blues as a purely African American art form can lead to misclassifications of musicians who weren’t true blues musicians simply because they were African American. It would also seem as though the whole concept of the historical authenticity of blues, as well as other music such as “old time” or “folk songs”, is very much biased and wasn’t necessarily representative of the music that was actually played at the time. For instance, when John Lomax published his documentation of cowboy songs, he was careful not to document songs that were more modern or well known pop songs (Miller pg. 85). In addition, when field recordings were made by John and Allen Lomax, many of them featured lower class members of society (prisoners, sharecroppers, etc...). While this was certainly representative of some African Americans and their music, it leaves out much of the music that was played by African Americans in slightly higher social classes. This picking and choosing of social classes and musical styles seems to do more to reflect the views of what outsiders wanted or expected this

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36 culture to look like. Since many of the ideas or concepts of “authenticity” in terms of blues music are so skewed, it seems inaccurate to compare my own authenticity to any of these standards. Ultimately, I would say that I am simply a “musician” who is predominantly influenced by American music. I feel that this project was a success on a variety of levels. I was able to learn much more than I had known previously about blues history and what it means to be an authentic blues musician. Secondly, this project gave me a chance to learn how to actually learn and play some of the music that I had learned about. My thesis performance went well in that I feel I was able to present some of the main points about my thesis in a very interactive manner and use my own music to demonstrate some of these points. I would say that my thesis performance ended up being authentic in that all of the arrangements played (though learned from someone else) were all interpreted in my own way while still sounding like the same piece. People who attended told me that they learned a great deal from this presentation and that it succeeded in being informative and engaging. The Crossroads performance might have been my favorite of the three parts. I thought that Crossroads gave me a chance to write my own compositions and demonstrate my own personal style. I feel as though I grew a great deal not just in my knowledge of this music, but also as a musician. Works Cited o Ainslie Scott. Robert Johnson: At the Crossroads. Hal Leonard Publishing Co., 1992. Print. Guitar Recorded Versions o Baker, Hugh and Taylor, Yuval. Faking it: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. New York N.Y.: W W Norton and Company Ltd, 2007. Print.

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37 o Doll Christopher. Transformations in Rock Harmony: An Exploratory Strategy. Newfound Press, 2009. Print. o Fox, Wade, and Richard Greene. "Twelve Bar Zombies: Wittgensteinian Reflections on the Blues." The Blues Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking Deep about Feeling Low. Eds. Jesse Steinberg and Abrol Fairweather. 1st ed.John Wiley & Sons, inc, 2012. 25. Print. Philosophy for Everyone o Jenkins, Philip. "The Blues as Cultural Expression." Blues Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking Deep about Feeling Low. Eds. Jesse Steinberg and Abrol Fairweather. 1st ed.John Wiley & sons, inc, 2012. 38. Print. Philosophy for Everyone o Joseph Matthew. "Keepers of Song Keepers of Tradition: Race and the Social Reproduction of Mississippi Hill Country Blues." (2012): 79. Print. o Keil Charles. Urban Blues. Chicago Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Print. o Langston, Nathaniel, and Douglass Langston. "Even White Folks Get the Blues." The Blues Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking Deep about Feeling Low. Eds. Jesse Steinberg and Abrol Fairweather. 1st ed.John Wiley & Sons, 2012. 167. Print. Philosophy for Everyone o Miller Karl Hagstrom. Segregating Sound : Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2010. Print. o Neumann, Michael. "Disturbative History: Did Whites Rip Off the Blues." Blues Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking Deep about Feeling Low. Ed. Jesse Steinberg.john Wiley & Sons, 2012. 176. Print. Philosophy for Everyone o Oliver, Paul. "The Future of the Blues: Looking Back at Looking Forward." Blues Off the Record: Thirty Years of Blues Commentary.Baton Press, 1984. 285. Print.

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38 o Palmer, Robert. Deep Blues., 1982. Print. o Sherman, Bernard D. "Authenticity of Musical Performance." The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Ed. Michael J. Kelly.Oxford University Press, 1998. Print. o Van Der Merwe, Peter. Origins of the Popular Style: Antecedents of Twentieth Century Popular Music. Oxford University Press, 1992. Print. o Wald, Elijah. Escaping the Delta. New York N.Y.: Amistad, 2004. Print. o Wardlow Gayle Dean. Chasin' that Devil Music : Searching for the Blues. Ed. Komara Edward. San Francisco Calif: Miller Freeman Books, 1998. Print.


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