Blues is one of the most established genres that music has to offer, and it has influenced countless legends of music in Rock, Jazz and many other genres. The truth is, that every genre has to come from somewhere, for blues, it came from North America, and it was black music to the core.
It all begins with ex slaves and family from slaves from the southern plantations in the United States, mostly in Missisipi, and it came together as a blend of different affrican music, drums, folk and country.
This was all around the 19th century.
When you think of the blues, you think about misfortune, betrayal and regret. You lose your job, you get the blues. Your mate falls out of love with you, you get the blues. Your dog dies, you get the blues.
While blues lyrics often deal with personal adversity, the music itself goes far beyond self-pity. The blues is also about overcoming hard luck, saying what you feel, ridding yourself of frustration, letting your hair down, and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic, and starkly emotional. From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.
That was the hook of blues, the pure emotion and the energy it evoked which while it could be extremely personal at times, it was also the kind of music that would make you dance.
Pioneers: Son House
The blues started to solidify around 1920, with great artists such as Son House, who actually did not like the sound of guitars at first: ” “I didn’t like no guitar when I first heard it; oh gee, I couldn’t stand a guy playin’ a guitar. I didn’t like none of it.”
Eddie James House, Jr. was born on March 21, 1902, in Riverton, MS. He was not very fond of his time working in the plantations and was unhappy about many things that surrounded him including the guitar which he eventually picked up a the age of 25 because of his place in gospel, but wasn’t really into the blues after some incidents in his life which included killing a man and serving two years in jail.
After his release, he truly began his life as a blues man and until his death, he was the king of the blues, for some, he still is.
There were many branches of music affected from the Blues around the mid 1920s and 1930s, from jazz, to gospel but one that gained a lot of popularity was Jug Blues, or Jug Bands, which were bands that used homemade instruments and regular instruments.
It was an interesting idea because sometimes many of these people with musical talent didn’t have access to radios or musical instruments, and this represents the fact that you could just tense a string on the wall and make music, use a sink as percussion, and of course jugs.
Chicago Blues: Buddy Guy
The blues is also al about feeling, and there are many great blues players and singers that were self taught, like Buddy Guy.
I’m self taught and used to playing music how I feel it. That’s the one way old blues guys from anywhere are the same. [laughs] For instance, a lot of people say they can’t play with John Lee Hooker because there’s no pattern, but I have no problem playing with John. You can hear in his voice when he’s getting ready to make a change because he plays it the way he sings it and sings it the way he plays it. You get a groove and play off that and change when you damn well feel like it. People think blues is all about 12-bar patterns, but it’s not like that and never was.
Buddy guy played with many big names, and became very popular because of his great talent playing the guitar which was both agressive and full of that blues feeling.
At this point blues had was beginning to earn the spotlight, and Chicago was the place to enjoy this type of pure honest music that came from Mississippi and New Orleans, along with Punk, but that’s another story.
People that embrace music as an essential part of their lives, that is, as their job, end up in uncomfortable dark places that may make them think differently about something they used to love. This is not strange or new, and it happens with every form of art that gets involved with marketing, sales, and large audiences.
However, there are moments when music can become a simple means to an end, with the end being making profit out of it. This of course means that the main reason why a musician does what he does becomes a secondary thing.
A Few Dark “Secrets”
The absence of women in positions of power undoubtedly contributes to a culture of sexism in the music industry. High-powered figures like Dr. Luke, Russell Simmons, and R. Kelly have been accused of sexual harassment.
This is a delicate matter because sometimes it can get out of hand, however it is something real, and it can’t be left out.
If you’ve got big dreams of striking it rich in the music industry, think again. 63% of album and download sales go to the label, and another 23% to the distributors. By the time the lawyers, publishers, producers, and managers get their cut, the average musician sees just 2.3% of the profit.
While money is not the main goal for most musicians, it is an important part of music as a career since it can become the main source of income, and sometimes it feels as if the musician is the product itself. From the musician’s point of view, maybe the only big thing to avoid is feeling as a product, while the percentaje of earnings seem small, there is a lot of money to be made in the music industry, so in the end, it’s best not to focus on making money.,
Fame is something that is not always handled in the best way possible, and sometimes it can even come from the band itself. Sometimes hits and popular music have some dark secrets or little things that make the whole vibe a bit weird, this was the case with the famous “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.
The classic riff at the beginning of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses began as a simple string skipping practice exercise Slash would do. As he was playing it, the rest of the band started playing along in what was just meant to be a jam session, but Axl Rose heard them playing in the other room and began writing lyrics to it. The song would become one of their biggest hits, but Slash always resented it, saying “[The song] turned into a huge hit and now it makes me sick. I mean, I like it, but I hate what it represents.
While it may not seem such a big deal, it can be very uncomfortable to know that something that was not intended to be anything is now a piece of music thought to have a deep meaning and great process behind it. Again, some may have no problems with this situation, but maybe it’s a matter of honesty.
It’s Not What It Seems
Of course, while it’s not a dark secret, many people fall prey to the magic of music and the artists who play it, however most of what we see may be part of an image ready to sell and it does not represent the real thing.
In many cases, bands and artists are just an image, while the producer takes care of doing all the writing, recording and mixing, being the real creator behind the curtains. Being concious of this sometimes makes it as if the musicians we all know and love, may be just puppets to an extent, and while there are many exceptions, every musician is is potentially one of these puppets.
There is also a musician’s personality; this can also be an image to sell, and does not represent reality, but just like an actor, a musician needs to act the part in order to sell the whole package to their audience. Maybe that’s not all bad, but there is no denying that when the private life and the alter ego get mixed up, there is a problem.
When you go to music stores, there is a feeling of endless posibilities and as if you are were you belong as a musician. Of course it also depends on which store you find yourself in, but in many cases, it’s not just about selling products, it’s more about a community, where musicians can find a place to find instruments, fix them, broaden their posibilities with different accesories, and make bonds with other musicians.
Sometimes going into a music store can bea little intimidating, with all the instruments hanging around you, drum sets, pianos, and all the posibilites with the small problem of having enough money to be able to have it all.
There is nothing like going to the place were the only reason to be there is music.
Forty-eight Street Stores
In an article by the New Yorker by Thomas Beller, he writes about some of the greatest music stores in New York, that are now gone.
Forty-eighth Street was once famous for stores that sold musical instruments. Those stores catered to musicians of every stripe, but the vibe was very rock and roll. The names that stand out for me are Manny’s and Sam Ash, but there were several others, packed together, one next to the other, each a world unto itself. In my own private atlas of the city, that street was also notable for the degree its character changed in the course of one block, from Seventh Avenue to Sixth Avenue. The music stores, like the support of a seesaw, were the point at which that character made its pivot.
Writing about this minutia brings me back to the spirit of those music stores on Forty-eighth Street: they weren’t merely a place to buy musical equipment. They were an immersive world where all this stuff was highly important. There were photos on the wall, the trappings of fame, money, the sense that giants had strode into this place, that the gods bought instruments here, or just strings and picks. Just by walking into these places you became a part of the ecclesiastical grit of rock music in New York.
That is the magical thing about all these little experiences in music stores, it’s all about being a part of something bigger than yourself.
There was also the question of style and taste—the look of the guitar being tried out. The dress of the player. The kind of music the potential buyer was interested in. It was an exercise in both “Name That Tune”—because usually, the riffs were famous riffs—and name that style. This guy is into Kiss, this guy into the Byrds, this one into the Clash. There was a lot of metal. I was going to these stores from the late nineteen-seventies until the mid-nineties, a time when the hard crunch of metal was prevalent in one form or another. Maybe I shouldn’t say metal. Maybe I should say rock and roll, in all its glorious young-dumb-and-full-of-come stupidity. Or just rock.
As a musician, it’s very important to be out there as such, because there is definitely a lot to learn from other musicians, but learning is not just about a classroom or online music lesson. Little things such as a tip from a stranger that plays in a music store can change your relationship with music, even if it is just a little bit, these changes matter in the big picture.
Whether it is learning about performance, instruments, history, music in general or just knowing people, music stores exist as a place for reunion and excitment for musicians of all ages, and while it’s a sort of tradition that doesn’t always appear to be real, it is real in many places, and it certainly is a candy story for musicians.