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Blues Ch 2

Blues Ch 2



This is an outline to Chapter 2 in "Looking Up At Down," by William Barlow.

This is an outline to Chapter 2 in "Looking Up At Down," by William Barlow.



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    Blues Ch 2 Blues Ch 2 Presentation Transcript

    • Chapter 2 “Everyday Seems Like Murder Here”
    • Telling It Like It Was
      The nature of the blues stems from experiences in Mississippi Delta
      Becoming a male adult in a social environment that denied manhood
    • Mississippi Delta
      Fertile farmland on either side of the Mississippi River
      Memphis, TN south (200 miles) to Vicksburg, MS
      1840s land was cleared for farming
      2 cash crops: cotton and lumber
      Railroads connect to the outside
    • The region was:
      Almost feudal
      Dominated by a few wealthy white plantation owners/merchants
      Blacks outnumbered whites 4 to 1
    • African – Americans were still:
      Lowest social stratum
      Denied basic civil/legal rights
      Limited access to public education/health care
      Living conditions were crude/unsanitary
      Homes lacked plumbing/electricity
      Diets lack nourishing food
    • Whitesupremacywas maintained by repressivesocial practices:
      Cross burnings
    • Blues players were living/playing in the midst of this and thus were affected by this.
    • Working conditions were also difficult/dangerous
      After Civil War (1865) the South was forced to free slaves
      Yet it did not abandon plantation economy
    • Sharecropping
      92% of the black population lived in rural south (1862)
      By 1900 per capita income of the South was 51% of the national average.
    • Result: they owed more than they earned
      Similar to sharecropping on plantations
      They performed back- breaking labor from sunup to sundown
      Lived in unsanitary facilities
      Were perpetually in debt to the contractor
      No School
    • Levee contract labor system
      After the Civil War the Federal Govt. hired white contractors who leased convicts
      After the turn of the century this convict system gave way to Levee Camps
    • Discipline enforced by “strawbosses” and “shack bullies”
      Workers were charged exorbitant fees for food, water, clothing, shelter, and recreation.
    • Many Delta blues musicians worked in or performed in levee camps
      This helped shape their musical repertoire
    • Delta Blues Origins
      The blues evolved from agrarian poverty and racial segregation
      A folk music indigenous to the cotton belt
      Mostly African-American population
      Developed in isolation from dominant white culture
    • First Delta blues similar to worksongs/field hollers
      Earliest written description of the blues by Charles Peabody, 1901
      By 1903 a slide was being used
      Subject matter focused on description of hardships/injustices – no overt protest
    • Music soon gravitated toward recreation
      Saturday night social gatherings – dated to slave era
      Dances held in homes, outdoors, juke joints (later)
    • Originally, fiddle was main instrument
      Repertoire included many Anglo-American fiddle tunes – suggesting that black and white musicians shared ideas.
    • Main break with old traditions was the use of the guitar and harmonica (harp)
      Self-taught Delta guitarists were most traditional/original
      Descended from 1 string instruments – diddley bow/berimbau
    • Berimbau
    • Diddley bows
      check it
    • Famous account given by W.C. Handy
      Slide technique allowed for approximation of arhoolies
    • Delta Blues Pioneers
    • Heart and soul of early Delta tradition
      Most famous blues artist in the region
      Youngest of 1stgeneration Delta bluesmen
    • Learned music from the Chatmon family
      3 generations of string band music
      Example: “Sittin’ On Top of the World”
    • Charley Patton came under the influence of Henry Sloan
      Sloan never recorded
      Considered one of the “founding fathers” of Delta blues
    • Patton and his cohorts spanned the gap between the songster tradition and newly emerging blues.
      Disciples included Willie Brown, Son House, and Tommy Johnson
      Songster – performed folksongs, popular songs, minstrel songs, and blues
    • Charley the Man
      Huck Finn features
      Flashy dresser
      Rambler, rowdy, fun-loving prankster
      Loved to drink and socialize
    • Charley the Performer
      Also danced, told tales, bantered
      Played guitar behind his head, between his legs, lying on his back
    • Patton’s playing emphasized rhythm over melody
      Similar to West African drumming
      Stacking rhythms in layers
      Used voice as an instrument – rhythmic effects
      Example: “Spoonful”
      "Will you kill my man?"
    • Patton was schooled in entire spectrum of black folk music
      Re-worked 3 basic “tune families”
      Lyrically he fused vignettes of Delta life with black oral tradition
    • Examples: “High Water Everywhere” and “Pony Blues”
      Saddle up my black mare
    • Delta Blues Networks
      Evidence suggest numerous networks, extended families, schools
      Patton & Co. were most popular
    • 3 Most Influential Bluesmen Who Played With Charley Patton
      Willie Brown
      Tommy Johnson
      Son House
    • Willie Brown (ca. 1911 – ca. 1940s)
      Spent most of his life in the Delta
      Expanded rhythmic possibilities of guitar
      Composed few songs
      Prominently mentioned in lyrics by Patton and Robert Johnson
    • Prevailing Social Conditions Made it Difficult for Women to Perform Blues
      Very dangerous lifestyle
      Women more likely joined church choir or minstrel troupe
      The few exceptions were:
      Josie Bush
      Louise Johnson
      Lucille Davis
      Mattie Delaney
    • Tommy Johnson (1896 – 1956)
      Spent most of his life in the Delta – Crystal Springs, MS
      Sold his soul to the devil Flamboyant guitar style – behind head/between legs
      Sold his soul to the devil
    • Crossroads is traditional domain ofLegba
      Yorubantrickster god identifiedwith Satan
    • Jackson, MS
      Hub of blues activity
      Only record talent scout in Deep South –
      aH. C. Spiers
    • Example: “Canned Heat Blues”
    • Son House (1902 – 1973)
      Perfected slide guitar technique
      Spent time on Parchman Farm
      Associated with Patton and Brown early 1930s
      “Rediscovered” by folkies in early 1960s
    • Example: “Death Letter Blues”
      Check the coolin' board
      Preach it, Brother Son
    • Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938)
      Key transitional figure between rural beginnings and modern urban blues
      Born in Hazelhurst, MS – south of the Delta
      Married by age 19 – wife and child died in childbirth
    • Restless spirit indicative of changing social consciousness among rural black population
      “Travel on, poor Bob, just can’t turn you ‘round”
    • Johnson’s Musical tastes Ventured Beyond the Delta
      Kokomo Arnold
      Scrapper Blackwell
      Lonnie Johnson
    • 2 Recording Sessions
      1st – San Antonio, TX 1936
      2nd – Dallas, TX – 1937
      Total of 29 blues tunes
    • Johnson’s Guitar Style was Far – Reaching
      Tightening of rhythmic line was basis for urban blues to follow
      Made guitar sound like a band
      Shuffle rhythms
    • Many of Johnson’s Tunes Borrowed From Others
      “Walking Blues” from Son House’s “My Black Mama”
      “Sweet Home Chicago” from Kokomo Arnold’s “Old Original Kokomo Blues”
      “32 – 20 Blues” from Skip James’ “20 -20 Blues”
      “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” and “Travelling Riverside Blues” from traditional “rolling and tumbling” theme
    • Johnson’s Most Original Tune
      “Hellhound On My Trail”
      “I got to keep on moving, got to keep on moving,
      Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail,
      Ummm blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail,
      And the day keeps on reminding me there’s a hellhound on my trail,
      Hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail.”
    • Themes in Johnson’s Music
      Social themes/images that dominate Johnson’s music are representative of the early Delta
      Mixture of personal observation and folklore updated black oral tradition
      Mobility = personal freedom – “Rambling On My Mind”
      Fatalism regarding forces against him – social/supernatural – “Crossroad Blues”
    • Dealings with the Devil
      Implicit in Johnson’s philosophy
      Encouraged the legend of selling his soul to the Devil
      “Me and the Devil Blues”
      “Early this morning when you knocked on my door,
      Early this morning when you knocked on my door,
      I said, “Hello Satan, I believe it’s time to go.”
    • Johnson’s Fatalism Implies a Capitulation to Overwhelming Social Constraints
      He has nothing to lose
      Element of defiance toward white culture
      Manifest in an African icon, disguised as Satan