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Blues Ch 2
Blues Ch 2
Blues Ch 2
Blues Ch 2
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Blues Ch 2


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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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  • Good historical perspective of the blues filled with sociological and musicological analysis related to this genre.
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  • 1. Chapter 2 “Everyday Seems Like Murder Here”
  • 2. 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
  • 3. 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
  • 4. The region was:
    Almost feudal
    Dominated by a few wealthy white plantation owners/merchants
    Blacks outnumbered whites 4 to 1
  • 5. 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
  • 6. Whitesupremacywas maintained by repressivesocial practices:
    Cross burnings
  • 7. Blues players were living/playing in the midst of this and thus were affected by this.
  • 8. Working conditions were also difficult/dangerous
    After Civil War (1865) the South was forced to free slaves
    Yet it did not abandon plantation economy
  • 9. 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.
  • 10. 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
  • 11. 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
  • 12. Discipline enforced by “strawbosses” and “shack bullies”
    Workers were charged exorbitant fees for food, water, clothing, shelter, and recreation.
  • 13. Many Delta blues musicians worked in or performed in levee camps
    This helped shape their musical repertoire
  • 14. 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
  • 15. 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
  • 16. Music soon gravitated toward recreation
    Saturday night social gatherings – dated to slave era
    Dances held in homes, outdoors, juke joints (later)
  • 17. Originally, fiddle was main instrument
    Repertoire included many Anglo-American fiddle tunes – suggesting that black and white musicians shared ideas.
  • 18. 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
  • 19. Berimbau
  • 20. Diddley bows
    check it
  • 21. Famous account given by W.C. Handy
    Slide technique allowed for approximation of arhoolies
  • 22. Delta Blues Pioneers
  • 23. Heart and soul of early Delta tradition
    Most famous blues artist in the region
    Youngest of 1stgeneration Delta bluesmen
  • 24. Learned music from the Chatmon family
    3 generations of string band music
    Example: “Sittin’ On Top of the World”
  • 25.
  • 26. Charley Patton came under the influence of Henry Sloan
    Sloan never recorded
    Considered one of the “founding fathers” of Delta blues
  • 27. 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
  • 28. Charley the Man
    Huck Finn features
    Flashy dresser
    Rambler, rowdy, fun-loving prankster
    Loved to drink and socialize
  • 29. Charley the Performer
    Also danced, told tales, bantered
    Played guitar behind his head, between his legs, lying on his back
  • 30. 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?"
  • 31. 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
  • 32. Examples: “High Water Everywhere” and “Pony Blues”
    Saddle up my black mare
  • 33. Delta Blues Networks
    Evidence suggest numerous networks, extended families, schools
    Patton & Co. were most popular
  • 34. 3 Most Influential Bluesmen Who Played With Charley Patton
    Willie Brown
    Tommy Johnson
    Son House
  • 35. 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
  • 36. 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
  • 37. 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
  • 38. Crossroads is traditional domain ofLegba
    Yorubantrickster god identifiedwith Satan
  • 39. Jackson, MS
    Hub of blues activity
    Only record talent scout in Deep South –
    aH. C. Spiers
  • 40. Example: “Canned Heat Blues”
  • 41. 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
  • 42. Example: “Death Letter Blues”
    Check the coolin' board
    Preach it, Brother Son
  • 43. 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
  • 44. Restless spirit indicative of changing social consciousness among rural black population
    “Travel on, poor Bob, just can’t turn you ‘round”
  • 45. Johnson’s Musical tastes Ventured Beyond the Delta
    Kokomo Arnold
    Scrapper Blackwell
    Lonnie Johnson
  • 46. 2 Recording Sessions
    1st – San Antonio, TX 1936
    2nd – Dallas, TX – 1937
    Total of 29 blues tunes
  • 47. 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
  • 48. 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
  • 49. 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.”
  • 50. 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”
  • 51. 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.”
  • 52. 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