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The State of The Blues – Destination Unknown?

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“…Well here it is the late 70s, going on 1985. You know, so much of the music we hear today is pre-programmed electronic disco; we never get a chance to hear master bluesmen practicing their craft anymore. By the year 2006, the music known today as the blues will exist only in the classical records department of your local public library. So, tonight, ladies and gentlemen, while we still can, let us welcome…”

I figured that I would start off with a quote from a song, from the first album I'd blues brothersever purchased. I was twelve. I just heard again recently. I was trying to think of a way to start off this article and this song said it all. However, Dan Aykroyd probably was not expecting disco to drop off as fast as it did. But, he does not seem too far off the mark in regard to blues music.

So, what will happen to the blues genre when the heavy hitter B.B. King retires? Or will he? Although there are other blues legends currently touring, Buddy Guy, Pinetop Perkins, Etta James, Honeyboy Edwards, Bo Diddley, and many more: can these artists draw a crowd? Can these artists still keep up with the rigors of life on the road?

SRVWhat about the younger generation of blues? Did God play a cruel joke on the music industry by taking Stevie Ray Vaughan (May he Rest in Peace) at such an early age? Or did this tragic accident occur to allow the younger, up and coming blues legends-in-the-making recognition? Who knows? Where would SRV be now if there was no accident? Would he still be playing in small clubs or headlining arenas? I don’t think there is a day that goes by that I have not heard one of his tunes played on the air. Did I hear his music daily before? No, I didn’t. But, then again that was years ago.

Everything happens for a reason. I guess we tend to over analyze the hows and the whys of events. God has a plan for everyone, and I have recently been subjected to his sense of humor, too. Like he has a big magnifying glass and I am a wee little ant.

Jimi, Jimi, Jimi. Where would music, the universal language, be today if it weren’t for Jimi HendrixHendrix? Just like SRV, where would music be now, if there were no tragedy? Being so ahead of his time, especially in that era. I recall being told that Jimi’s music was ‘Acid Rock’, and a no-no for me to listen to. That was, perhaps, thirty years ago. Today, it is a daily staple that just happens to fall into blues genre on more occasions than not. Was it Jimi’s unorthodox style that got other (potentially) great axe-men to think outside the box? How did he get that tone? After Woodstock (I was only a few months old at the time), did you notice how much music as a whole changed? More and more serious guitar riffs were being performed live, making live shows the “thing to do.”

The up and coming blues greats pay awesome tribute to Jimi by playing a cover or two. Joe Bonamassa has covered a rockin’ medley of “If 6 Were 9/Spanish Castle Magic” and a JB style “Are you Experienced?”. Anthony Gomes usually does not perform covers, but I very recently saw him perform trippy versions of both “Hey Joe” and “Wind Cries Mary” that left me with goose bumps. Albert Cummings usually performs a 20-minute cover of “Voodoo Chile” that will have you running for the lighter fluid! May the sacrifice of your Fender commence!

It appears the younger generation blues artists need to perform what is now called blues-rock to capture the rock/metal audience, wowing the fans with their techniques. Then, they will slip in a song or two that is more of a Delta style blues to grasp the attention of the true blues fan, perhaps even adding a bit of harp. I would gather that this would be a different form of “crossover artist”. As we all know, the term is usually reserved for the pop genre. Then we have a few artists that did cross over. John Mayer and Kenny Wayne Shepherd come to mind. However, did they both take that path or did they happen to be blessed with a bit of good timing? What really got these artists known? Was it crossing over or was it a late night talk show appearance?

Well, it is obvious to me that the performers will not inspire the youths of this nation anytime soon, other than a handful of artists that are determined to draw in the youngsters in this country via their BITS (Blues in the Schools) clinics. My 16-year old gets regular exposure to my music library, mainly because I want her to. She will know that there is more to music than Eminem and 50 Cent, or whatever their names happen to be today.

I am also well aware that I have not written about so many talented artists that perform the blues. Tab Benoit, Shemekia Copeland, or even Jeff Healey, who happened to give blues a bit of a jolt when he was spotlighted in the movie Road House. Nor have I brought up artists from yesteryear, those who paved the way for many who have followed in their footsteps. Artists like John Lee Hooker, Wilson Pickett, Junior Wells, or Howlin’ Wolf gave us plenty of music to inspire the masses. I am aware that I am only skimming the surface and that there is much more to this topic. But there are more questions than answers and I think it's time to hear what other blues fans have to say.

Being the root of the music vine, you know where it started, but the bigger question is: where is the blues headed? 
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About Tara Clark

  • Kevin Davis

    The electric guitar was the worst thing that ever happened to the blues.

    Mississippi John Hurt, we hardly knew ye.

  • The Blues is alive and well and living in North America, but even more so in Europe. What we have turned our back on here because of the expediancy of radio and music charts sell out to packed houses in countries like Germany, Denmark, and all across central and eastern Europe.

    Every week I receive a newsletter itemizing all the upcoming blues releases in North America and the World and most are people who I have never heard of, and younger than me. Just because the blues is no longer always played on a National Resonater doesn’t prevent it from being the blues.

    The blues is not a only a style of music it is an attitude towards what you are trying to accomplish with your music. You can play “blues” music on anything you want, at any tempo and in any key.

    Listen to Harry Manx play the blues with his 26 string combination sitar and guitar, is to hear how universal the music is.

    The blues have never been popular in the sence of getting air time in North America, especially in the days of aritists like Muddy Watter’s etc. Who was going to play black music sung by black men on white radio in 1950’s America?

    But even with desegregation the blues were never big like popular music, and it probably never will be. But it will always survive, because it is the root to which all of our pop music can be traced back to in North America (you could go further if you wanted, but you’d have to leave the continent)

    There are amazing musicians playing acoustic blues these days of all ages, you just have to look for them. Like country music blues has many faces, and periodically there will be swings of the pendulum from commercial varients to more traditional forms.

    Blues is as healthy now as it ever has been and will continue to thrive for as long as people are willing to pick up a guitar and express genuine emotion.

    Richard Marcus

  • The electric guitar has only added dimension to the blues. Hell, Honeyboy plays electric guitar! He’s plugged in. And he can play that thing like you wouldn’t believe!

    I think the simple fact that the blues continues to evolve and bend and flow gives it a longer life and has the potential to attract the ears of new listeners of all generations. That’s what the blues is all about.

  • Jane Hall

    For me I didn’t think twice about the blues until I learned thats where blues-rock came from. I am still learning about it and what Richard said above makes alot of sense to me. As far as the future of the blues, as long as the definition isn’t too “pure” I’ll be listening and maybe hopefully playing/singing some of it one day. I can relate to the blues better in the way of the feelings as opposed to it being about those 3 chords or whatever it is some people say makes it the blues. I don’t want to do without the electric blues.

  • Hi, I would like to thank you for your intesting article. It seems that every time I see a headline “State of the Blues” or “Where Is The Blues Headed” or just “Blues”, I have to stop and read it because I love the blues music. I would like to comment on the paragraph where you stated that: “…it is obvious to me that the performers will not inspire the youths of this nation anytime soon, other than a handful of artists that are determined to draw in the youngsters in this country via their BITS (Blues in the Schools) clinics”.

    My partner and I have been doing all we can to “keep the blues alive”. We are relative new blues artists, but not very young. I’m 41 and she’s about 46. Together we comprise the blues duo Osgood & Blaque from Vicksburg, Ms. After reading your article, I must say that it does seem that few people really want to hear the blues. However, ever since we’ve been performing together (2003), all we care about is blues. We started out here in Vicksburg, performing for a variety of people, which calls for a variety of music. But being a fluent and talented solo performer for many years, that was the easy part. The real task was making the transitions in our home town from being known as a “real good group who plays everything” to “Osgood & Blaque Duo Blues Band”. Since our first start, we’ve performed all over Vicksburgs and still do, all over Jackson, Ms, up and down the state of Mississippi, at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Handys Blues Hall on Beale Street in Memphis, the Windy City Grill in Como, Ms. And it gets better everyday. I could gripe about how everytime I start a band, the members don’t take it serious enough or don’t have enough “thick skin” to hang with the pressure, but that doesn’t bother me. My partner and I don’t need anybody else as far as performing is concerned. It’s just two of us but we don’t play our music the traditional “acoustic way”. I’ve created something entirely NEW! I manipulate my keyboard so that our sound includes drums, bass, horns, piano, organ, strings or whatever we need to make the blues sound good. My female partner is a vocalist and harmonica player. We actually sound like a six-piece band and get great reviews. But, this is not due to any music industry professionals supporting us or taking real interest in us. We do our own writing, recording, producting, marketing, distribution and so forth. Its a real job, but we’re gettin’ the blues out there. I’m wondering whether the blues music industry is really dedicated to “keepin’ the blues alive” or just looking for artists they can exploit. My point is this: There is a new generation of blues professionals, who are working hard on their talents so they can support the blues music industyr. They are skilled, and they can perform just like the old heads, they can sing like the old heads, their music is synonomous with the early blues, but it seems that the music industry has forgotten about “these middle-aged” artists and are focusing on the very young genration. I think the time has come to put things in perspective. The real question is: What are the talent managers, booking agencies, labels, etc. looking for? We’re poor and we can’t foot the bill of national or international exposure without spending the rest of our lives and by that time, (I guess you’re right) the blues will have DIED! Our show consist mostly of Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, Etta James, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Howlin’ Wolf, and a whole of “real” blues artists and legends mixed in with our own original blues. We’re playing the blues, just the blues, and everywhere we go, everybody loves it. We’ve release three cds and they sell well. We’re convinced that we’re going to play the blues ’til we die. Hopefully we’l make a difference for the next generation cause we’re already making a BIG difference in this one.

    So, again, thanks for your interest in this topic. Its very encouraging to know that someone else can sympathize with the state of the blues, but, if God be willing,…WE GON’ CHANGE SOME THANGS!

    Take care!
    Greg Osgood/Cee Blaque
    Osgood & Blaque Blues Duo Band