The Blues is a hard genre to pin down, whether it’s rocking, soulful, country, folk, electric or acoustic. One thing is for certain, none of it would be possible without the contributions of African Americans. It originated in the Southern US with gospel and field songs under harsh conditions. I believe in order to understand the blues, you have to sing it with emotion and feel the underlying soul and groove. Country and Blues were labels given to this music when 78 records were being released. Old time blues and country music are the same in where the singer is investing incredible amount of soul and and emotion into the songs. The Guitar soon replaced the fiddle and banjo as the main instrument during the early 1900’s and was the perfect voice for this style of music. African Americans were experimenting with all types of techniques like the slide, percussive and complex finger style arrangements that mimicked the ragtime style of piano from the turn of the century.
Mid century, the electric guitar took center stage, and soon rock and roll was born. This page is more or less dedicated to the acoustic folk blues and intricate finger styles of the various artists I list below. This is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of the blues, but my take on things and most likely it will evolve into other styles and artists.
Arguably the greatest acoustic guitar player of the blues era. I think of Reverend Gary Davis like Shakespeare, in which a blues guitarist should be able to have a few of his works in their repertoire. Gary Davis grew up in the upstate region of South Carolina but found his footing in New York, where he influenced the next generation of folk blues artists in Greenwich Village during the 50’s and 60’s.
Blind Lemon Jefferson
A texas blues legend in the early 1900’s. Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the most successful recording artists of the 78 records era. Many African Americans suffered from blindness from birth or early childhood due to disease and lack of adequate medical care. Before social security or social safety nets, many were resigned to music in order to scrape by. Henry Lemon Jefferson recorded for Paramount records and Okeh Records and had been one of the biggest selling blues artists during this time. Jefferson died an untimely death in a Chicago snow storm on Dec 19th 1929.
Blind Wille McTell
Grew up in Georgia and mastered the 12 string guitar. Wille McTell lived a relatively long life for a performer but struggled later in his years. His high voice and deep 12 string guitar created an iconic sound that resonates to this day. “Statesboro Blues” is a staple in the blues repertoire and his original version is a foundation upon many other great songs developed.
Reverend Gary Davis looked up to Blind Blake as the king of ragtime guitar. Blind Blakes complex syncopated finger style technique is hard to emulate let alone make it your own. Like Rev. Davis, Blind Blake is essential for any finger style artist’s repertoire.
Drinking, women and gambling are the staples of most blues songs and “Jack of Diamonds” is a classic blues folk tune. Based on a popular card game played by rail road workers during the turn of the century.
Mississippi John Hurt
World-renowned master of the acoustic guitar John Hurt, an important figure in the 1960s folk blues revival, spent most of his life doing farm work around Avalon in Carroll County and performing for parties and local gatherings. Hurt (1893-1966) only began to earn a living from music after he left Mississippi in 1963 to play at folk festivals, colleges, and coffeehouses. His first recordings, 78 rpm discs released in 1928-29, are regarded as classics of the blues genre. http://www.msbluestrail.org/blues-trail-markers/mississippi-john-hurt