Blues Ch 2


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

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  • Good historical perspective of the blues filled with sociological and musicological analysis related to this genre.
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Blues Ch 2

  1. 1. Chapter 2 “Everyday Seems Like Murder Here”<br />
  2. 2. Telling It Like It Was<br />The nature of the blues stems from experiences in Mississippi Delta<br />Becoming a male adult in a social environment that denied manhood <br />
  3. 3. Mississippi Delta<br />Fertile farmland on either side of the Mississippi River<br />Memphis, TN south (200 miles) to Vicksburg, MS<br />1840s land was cleared for farming<br />2 cash crops: cotton and lumber<br />Railroads connect to the outside<br />
  4. 4. The region was:<br />Backwards<br />Almost feudal<br />Agrarian<br />Dominated by a few wealthy white plantation owners/merchants<br />Blacks outnumbered whites 4 to 1<br />
  5. 5. African – Americans were still:<br />Lowest social stratum<br />Denied basic civil/legal rights<br />Limited access to public education/health care<br />Living conditions were crude/unsanitary<br />Homes lacked plumbing/electricity<br />Diets lack nourishing food<br />
  6. 6. Whitesupremacywas maintained by repressivesocial practices:<br />Curfews<br />Cross burnings<br />Beatings<br />Lynchings<br />
  7. 7. Blues players were living/playing in the midst of this and thus were affected by this.<br />
  8. 8. Working conditions were also difficult/dangerous<br />After Civil War (1865) the South was forced to free slaves<br />Yet it did not abandon plantation economy<br />
  9. 9. Sharecropping<br />92% of the black population lived in rural south (1862)<br />By 1900 per capita income of the South was 51% of the national average.<br />
  10. 10. Result: they owed more than they earned<br />Similar to sharecropping on plantations<br />They performed back- breaking labor from sunup to sundown<br />Lived in unsanitary facilities<br />Were perpetually in debt to the contractor<br />No School<br />
  11. 11. Levee contract labor system<br />After the Civil War the Federal Govt. hired white contractors who leased convicts<br />After the turn of the century this convict system gave way to Levee Camps<br />
  12. 12. Discipline enforced by “strawbosses” and “shack bullies”<br />Workers were charged exorbitant fees for food, water, clothing, shelter, and recreation.<br />
  13. 13. Many Delta blues musicians worked in or performed in levee camps<br />This helped shape their musical repertoire<br />
  14. 14. Delta Blues Origins<br />The blues evolved from agrarian poverty and racial segregation<br />A folk music indigenous to the cotton belt<br />Mostly African-American population<br />Developed in isolation from dominant white culture<br />
  15. 15. First Delta blues similar to worksongs/field hollers<br />Earliest written description of the blues by Charles Peabody, 1901<br />By 1903 a slide was being used<br />Subject matter focused on description of hardships/injustices – no overt protest<br />
  16. 16. Music soon gravitated toward recreation<br />Saturday night social gatherings – dated to slave era<br />Dances held in homes, outdoors, juke joints (later)<br />
  17. 17. Originally, fiddle was main instrument<br />Repertoire included many Anglo-American fiddle tunes – suggesting that black and white musicians shared ideas.<br />
  18. 18. Main break with old traditions was the use of the guitar and harmonica (harp)<br />Self-taught Delta guitarists were most traditional/original<br />Descended from 1 string instruments – diddley bow/berimbau<br />
  19. 19. Berimbau<br />
  20. 20. Diddley bows<br />check it<br />
  21. 21. Famous account given by W.C. Handy<br />Slide technique allowed for approximation of arhoolies<br />
  22. 22. Delta Blues Pioneers<br />
  23. 23. Heart and soul of early Delta tradition<br />Most famous blues artist in the region<br />Youngest of 1stgeneration Delta bluesmen<br />
  24. 24. Learned music from the Chatmon family<br />3 generations of string band music<br />Example: “Sittin’ On Top of the World”<br />Chatmons<br />
  25. 25.
  26. 26. Charley Patton came under the influence of Henry Sloan<br />Sloan never recorded<br />Considered one of the “founding fathers” of Delta blues<br />
  27. 27. Patton and his cohorts spanned the gap between the songster tradition and newly emerging blues.<br />Disciples included Willie Brown, Son House, and Tommy Johnson<br />Songster – performed folksongs, popular songs, minstrel songs, and blues<br />
  28. 28. Charley the Man<br />Huck Finn features<br />Flashy dresser<br />Rambler, rowdy, fun-loving prankster<br />Loved to drink and socialize<br />
  29. 29. Charley the Performer<br />Flamboyant/charismatic <br />Also danced, told tales, bantered<br />Played guitar behind his head, between his legs, lying on his back<br />
  30. 30. Patton’s playing emphasized rhythm over melody<br />Similar to West African drumming<br />Stacking rhythms in layers<br />Used voice as an instrument – rhythmic effects<br />Example: “Spoonful”<br />&quot;Will you kill my man?&quot;<br />
  31. 31. Patton was schooled in entire spectrum of black folk music<br />Re-worked 3 basic “tune families”<br />Lyrically he fused vignettes of Delta life with black oral tradition<br />
  32. 32. Examples: “High Water Everywhere” and “Pony Blues”<br />Saddle up my black mare<br />
  33. 33. Delta Blues Networks<br />Evidence suggest numerous networks, extended families, schools<br />Patton & Co. were most popular<br />
  34. 34. 3 Most Influential Bluesmen Who Played With Charley Patton <br />Willie Brown<br />Tommy Johnson<br />Son House<br />
  35. 35. Willie Brown (ca. 1911 – ca. 1940s)<br />Spent most of his life in the Delta<br />Expanded rhythmic possibilities of guitar<br />Composed few songs<br />Prominently mentioned in lyrics by Patton and Robert Johnson<br />
  36. 36. Prevailing Social Conditions Made it Difficult for Women to Perform Blues<br />Very dangerous lifestyle<br />Women more likely joined church choir or minstrel troupe<br />The few exceptions were:<br />Josie Bush<br />Louise Johnson<br />Lucille Davis<br />Mattie Delaney<br />
  37. 37. Tommy Johnson (1896 – 1956)<br />Spent most of his life in the Delta – Crystal Springs, MS<br />Sold his soul to the devil Flamboyant guitar style – behind head/between legs<br />Sold his soul to the devil<br />
  38. 38. Crossroads is traditional domain ofLegba<br />Yorubantrickster god identifiedwith Satan<br />
  39. 39. Jackson, MS<br />Hub of blues activity<br />Only record talent scout in Deep South –<br />aH. C. Spiers<br />
  40. 40. Example: “Canned Heat Blues”<br />Sterno<br />
  41. 41. Son House (1902 – 1973)<br />Perfected slide guitar technique<br />Spent time on Parchman Farm<br />Associated with Patton and Brown early 1930s<br />“Rediscovered” by folkies in early 1960s<br />
  42. 42. Example: “Death Letter Blues”<br />Check the coolin&apos; board<br />Preach it, Brother Son<br />
  43. 43. Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938)<br />Key transitional figure between rural beginnings and modern urban blues<br />Born in Hazelhurst, MS – south of the Delta<br />Married by age 19 – wife and child died in childbirth<br />
  44. 44. Restless spirit indicative of changing social consciousness among rural black population<br />“Travel on, poor Bob, just can’t turn you ‘round”<br />
  45. 45. Johnson’s Musical tastes Ventured Beyond the Delta<br />Kokomo Arnold<br />Scrapper Blackwell<br />Lonnie Johnson<br />
  46. 46. 2 Recording Sessions<br />1st – San Antonio, TX 1936<br />2nd – Dallas, TX – 1937<br />Total of 29 blues tunes<br />
  47. 47. Johnson’s Guitar Style was Far – Reaching<br />Tightening of rhythmic line was basis for urban blues to follow<br />Made guitar sound like a band<br />Shuffle rhythms<br />
  48. 48. Many of Johnson’s Tunes Borrowed From Others<br />“Walking Blues” from Son House’s “My Black Mama”<br />“Sweet Home Chicago” from Kokomo Arnold’s “Old Original Kokomo Blues”<br />“32 – 20 Blues” from Skip James’ “20 -20 Blues”<br />“If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” and “Travelling Riverside Blues” from traditional “rolling and tumbling” theme<br />
  49. 49. Johnson’s Most Original Tune<br />“Hellhound On My Trail”<br />“I got to keep on moving, got to keep on moving,<br />Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail,<br />Ummm blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail,<br />And the day keeps on reminding me there’s a hellhound on my trail,<br />Hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail.”<br />
  50. 50. Themes in Johnson’s Music<br />Social themes/images that dominate Johnson’s music are representative of the early Delta<br />Mixture of personal observation and folklore updated black oral tradition<br />Mobility = personal freedom – “Rambling On My Mind”<br />Fatalism regarding forces against him – social/supernatural – “Crossroad Blues”<br />
  51. 51. Dealings with the Devil<br />Implicit in Johnson’s philosophy<br />Encouraged the legend of selling his soul to the Devil<br />“Me and the Devil Blues”<br />“Early this morning when you knocked on my door,<br />Early this morning when you knocked on my door,<br />I said, “Hello Satan, I believe it’s time to go.”<br />
  52. 52. Johnson’s Fatalism Implies a Capitulation to Overwhelming Social Constraints<br />He has nothing to lose<br />Element of defiance toward white culture<br />Manifest in an African icon, disguised as Satan<br />