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What is Blues?

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The Shambles 25 Mar 00 - 06:48 AM
GUEST,McGrath of Harlow 25 Mar 00 - 08:11 AM
Caitrin 25 Mar 00 - 10:29 AM
Amos 25 Mar 00 - 10:40 AM
BlueJay 25 Mar 00 - 11:29 AM
BlueJay 25 Mar 00 - 11:46 AM
Amos 25 Mar 00 - 11:52 AM
BlueJay 25 Mar 00 - 11:55 AM
McGrath of Harlow 25 Mar 00 - 01:00 PM
Amos 25 Mar 00 - 01:03 PM
Biskit 25 Mar 00 - 03:23 PM
Clinton Hammond2 25 Mar 00 - 03:59 PM
ZzJjzZ 25 Mar 00 - 04:11 PM
catspaw49 25 Mar 00 - 04:25 PM
Gary T 25 Mar 00 - 04:56 PM
Lonesome EJ 25 Mar 00 - 05:06 PM
catspaw49 25 Mar 00 - 05:13 PM
rangeroger 25 Mar 00 - 10:57 PM
The Beanster 26 Mar 00 - 01:38 AM
bseed(charleskratz) 26 Mar 00 - 01:50 AM
ddw 26 Mar 00 - 05:59 PM
Mooh 26 Mar 00 - 06:12 PM
The Beanster 26 Mar 00 - 11:41 PM
MarkS 26 Mar 00 - 11:49 PM
catspaw49 27 Mar 00 - 12:09 AM
Mbo 27 Mar 00 - 01:01 AM
Whistle Stop 27 Mar 00 - 10:27 AM
GUEST 27 Mar 00 - 10:57 AM
Fortunato 27 Mar 00 - 10:57 AM
Whistle Stop 27 Mar 00 - 01:11 PM
M. Ted (inactive) 27 Mar 00 - 03:16 PM
Easy Rider 27 Mar 00 - 04:02 PM
Froodo 27 Mar 00 - 04:53 PM
Caitrin 27 Mar 00 - 05:04 PM
Amos 27 Mar 00 - 05:17 PM
GUEST,Lowcountry 27 Mar 00 - 07:06 PM
Barky 27 Mar 00 - 07:31 PM
Guy Wolff 27 Mar 00 - 09:09 PM
ddw 27 Mar 00 - 09:15 PM
M. Ted (inactive) 27 Mar 00 - 10:40 PM
Whistle Stop 28 Mar 00 - 08:34 AM
Easy Rider 28 Mar 00 - 09:02 AM
Lady McMoo 28 Mar 00 - 10:17 AM
Steve Latimer 28 Mar 00 - 10:28 AM
GUEST,Neil Lowe 28 Mar 00 - 11:08 AM
M. Ted (inactive) 28 Mar 00 - 11:40 AM
Whistle Stop 28 Mar 00 - 12:36 PM
M. Ted (inactive) 28 Mar 00 - 12:53 PM
Whistle Stop 28 Mar 00 - 02:22 PM
Bert 28 Mar 00 - 02:23 PM
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Subject: What is Blues?
From: The Shambles
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 06:48 AM

I have seen many 'What is folk' threads on The Mudcat but I cannot remember seeing too many 'What is blues' ones. Maybe on other sites, a furious debate goes on about this subject but I think not to the extent that we seem to here, about folk. Why might that be?

You look at a music that had its beginnings in a US, black culture and is now championed by just about everyone, except, possibly now the black culture that spawned it. It produced a strange effect where the originators or the music in America, were to influence performers in Europe (the UK especially), who in turn influenced a whole new generation of (mainly white) American ones. I am thinking of people like Stevie Ray Vaughan, who in turn went on the inspire even more.

The music has gone through a lot of changes but still can be pretty easily recognised and appears to be in a pretty healthy condition?

Do the disputes and definitions that divide folk music not exist with the blues?

If they do not, could it be that blues music in firmly in the hands of those that just get on, make and listen to it, rather than at the mercy of collectors, scholars and experts, who feel they have to categorise, and to constantly defend and preserve some idea of purity?

And yes, this could be seen as another means of starting yet another 'What is folk' thread, but do not most of our discussions tend to end up as that anyway?


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: GUEST,McGrath of Harlow
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 08:11 AM

The thing about blues is that there is a common identifiable tradition here - there could be arguments about the boundaries and whether something can properly be classified as blues, and about White Blues, and Country Blues and where it shades into Jazz and so forth but I think there'd be a general agreement that all blues had to have their roots in a particular tradition.

And you can't do that with folk really, for the roots of what gets called folk are all over the place, in all minds of unrelated traditions. Chinese music, Irish music, Indian music, Romanian music, English Music Hall.The list goes on for ever...

I suppose the next logical move in the discussion would be "Are all blues folk?" And if some blues aren't folk would that mean they aren't really blues? (My answer to both questions would be No, for wehat it's worth.)


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Caitrin
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 10:29 AM

Hmmm...interesting question.
There are places where The Blues crosses over with jazz and rock, as well as with folk. For instance, there are Led Zeppelin and Cream songs that could be considered blues by some. Covers spark still more questions...Is Cream's cover of "Crossroads" still blues, or is it rock?
I have a hard time trying to define the blues. For me, it seems to have more to do with the feeling that inspired the music, and the feeling it leaves the listener with than with any specifics.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Amos
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 10:40 AM

This is the question to which one constant answer is "If you need to ask, you wouldn't understand", which is not addressed to the music of the blues but the condition. It helps to keep in sight that in its roots blues was music generated by an condition -- having the blues. The condition is similar but I would argue different from classic depression. But the blues instead of generating analytical polysyllables and pharmacutical fortunes, generated music. I genuinely think it might be best left not further analyzed (the condition).

The roots of the music are that it was the music generated by that condition.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: BlueJay
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 11:29 AM

As David Bromberg said: "You've got to suffer if you wanna sing the blues". I'm no expert on the blues, but I think it's expanded from the "suffering" aspect; not entirely "cry in your beer music", (which is my definition of commercial country/western, but that's another thread). What about "talking blues"? Some of those are hilarious, e.g. "Talking Candy Bar Blues", "Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" and the "Vietnam Potluck Blues". The crossovers to jazz and rock are plentiful, hmmmm... I think you just know it when you hear it. I don't think I can exactly define it, but as I said, I'm no expert. Click here for a perfect definition. (;


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: BlueJay
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 11:46 AM

Oh yeah, once when a friend and I played a blues set on live radio, we threw in a bluegrass song. The DJ asked, "What's the difference between Blues and Bluegrass"? Like an idiot, I responded, "I don't know, it must be the grass"! Pretty tame stuff in a big city I know, but down here? No proven cause/effect, but so far we haven't been asked back.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Amos
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 11:52 AM

THere's a lot more grass in Blues than in Bluegrass, I would guess - traditionally, anyway.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: BlueJay
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 11:55 AM

Amos- I agree, but it was the best I could do off the top of my head. I'm not used to playing on the air.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 01:00 PM

There's always been happy blues as well as sad blues. But maybe there's an element of "if you don't laugh, you'll cry".

You can find the emotional attitudes that characterise blues in other types of music - they are to do with being beaten down but not defeated, and you can find it everywhere it's needed. But that doesn't make the music blues. Blues is to do with a particular set of musical conventions combined with and expressing that attitude.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Amos
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 01:03 PM

I think you did real well, Bluejay. Maybe the difference is in who gets to do the suffering -- in blues, its the singer! :>)


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Biskit
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 03:23 PM

I don't know who originally said it,..more than likely someone with'em But the Blues ain't nothin' but a good man feelin' bad.-Biskit-


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Clinton Hammond2
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 03:59 PM

Blues??
The opposite end of the visible spectrum from the reds...
{~`


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: ZzJjzZ
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 04:11 PM

I like what John Hurt says in CC Rider about what the blues is.

"The blues ain't nothin but a good woman on your mind."


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: catspaw49
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 04:25 PM

I thought that was just being horny.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Gary T
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 04:56 PM

I don't have his exact words in front of me, but John Lennon said something like "The blues is a chair. It's not a design for a chair, or a blueprint of a chair, it's the chair itself." I gathered he was saying the blues is (are?) what it is and has to be played/sung/heard, rather than defined.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 05:06 PM

Sounds like old John being Platonic again. Of couse, he's right.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: catspaw49
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 05:13 PM

Whoever said it, its a great quote! Makes total sense, which is probably why someone will want to argue about it!

It would be nice if it applied to folk. I don't want to get that discussion going here either, but I think that's a good explanation as well for a lot of the "folk-style" songs we talk about. Ashoken Farewell doesn't meet the purist definition, but it sure as hell 'sounds' like folk.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: rangeroger
Date: 25 Mar 00 - 10:57 PM

Big Bill Broonsy made the quote about a good man feeling bad.
rr


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: The Beanster
Date: 26 Mar 00 - 01:38 AM

The blues to me, are songs that tell such a sad tale, no matter what your own problems are, they're not THAT bad, in comparison.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: bseed(charleskratz)
Date: 26 Mar 00 - 01:50 AM

Actually, Jimmie Rodgers put it in one of his blue yodels in the late twenties. I don't know if he originated it or heard it from someone else.

--seed


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: ddw
Date: 26 Mar 00 - 05:59 PM

I think one of the reasons blues has a little better definition than "folk" is that it is a musical form (usually eight bars of lyric over 12 bars of instrumental, tho' that can vary considerably and there is a 16-bar form) that is as identifiable as certain other forms — jigs, reels, etc. spring to mind; my understanding of those is that they're defined by the rhythm patterns.

But then things start to get muddy. John Hurt is generally tho't of as a blues man, but he played a lot of other things too. So did Mance Lipscombe, Leadbelly, Blind Boy Fuller, Bo Carter and just about every other blues great you could name.

But then you could bring in the "feeling" argument — that it's not the song or the form, but the emotion it conveys. Trouble with that is that there are songs in blues form that run the entire range of conditions/emotions.

As for the rock/blues and jazz/blues cutoff lines, it's every man for himself on where you draw the line. Personally, as soon as they start adding synthasizers, screaming electric guitars, screaming vocals and too much drum, it's crossed the line in to rock. Jazz is a little harder to pin down, so I don't have any real clear line of demarcation on that.

And all that said, I usually come full circle and agree with definitions like "blues ain't nothin' but a good man feelin' bad" and "blues is just a good woman on your mind."

Besides, I have to go to work now.

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Mooh
Date: 26 Mar 00 - 06:12 PM

The Shambles,

Hmmm...

What is blues? The answers depend on the parameters of the moment. I usually think of all music as somewhat derivative so at least I can trace their roots to a more common form. Maybe the blues in its most recognizable form of today comes from the U.S. but I've heard forms of it being championed as African, which is (I think) a little more honest. However it is defined, it's the difference in definitions that make it so much more than we often expect. So long as every definition of it is legitimatized by honest practitioners, the definition can evolve.

Just thinking about defining it is giving me the blues.

Mooh.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: The Beanster
Date: 26 Mar 00 - 11:41 PM

I'm sure it was merely an oversight, lads, but the way that definition goes is also "blues ain't nothin' but a good woman feelin' bad" and "blues is just a good man on your mind." Just keeping you on the straight & narrow...


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: MarkS
Date: 26 Mar 00 - 11:49 PM

"If you want to know the blues, I can help you understand"
"Its a ten dollar woman, with a two dollar man"
Patrick Sky


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: catspaw49
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 12:09 AM

Hi Mark....I think he picked that line up from Mississippi John Hurt who he had played with a lot.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Mbo
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 01:01 AM

I'll tell all you arguers what my ethnomusicology teachers said:

Blues is not a style, but a state of mind

And that's all I'm gonna say, cause I believe, to me very heart.

--Mbo


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 10:27 AM

Most of these answers seem to be defining the blues by the type and quality of emotion it conveys. However, I have to agree with McGrath, that these emotions are more universal than that, and appear in musics of all kinds that otherwise have nothing to do with the blues. To be meaningful, I think you need to define the blues historically and musically, rather than just emotionally. The historical part of the definition involves where the music came from -- black slaves, ex-slaves and descendants of slaves combining African elements from their cultural past with the musics they encountered and assimilated after their arrival in America. A lot has been written about this, and rightly so -- the "roots of blues" is a fascinating topic for the musicologists among us.

For me, the musical part hinges on the amibiguity of the third step of the scale -- where other western musics had increasingly moved in the direction of a definitive major or minor tonality (pick one -- can't have both), the blues mixed major elements with minor, playing a flatted third against a major chord progression, etc. This is more significant than it sounds, because it very effectively conveys a complexity of emotion that often is not present in other musics that are based on a more definitive major/minor choice. Where a simplistic view would consider major scales/chords to be "happy" and minor to be "sad," the mixing of the two allows both emotions to be present in varying degrees -- which allows joy to triumph over anguish, or sadness to exist in the midst of happy circumstances, etc. I believe that this is the essence of the blues, and some of us might argue that it more truly reflects "real life" than the more stark choice offered by defined major and minor tonalities in some other musics.

I may not have expressed this very well, but I hope it makes sense to other Mudcatters. I'd be interested in people's reactions.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 10:57 AM

There is no simple, pure 'truth' about the origins or meaning of the blues. It is impossible to precisely define the blues, just as it is impossible to precisely define folk, because there are too many blurred boundaries between genres, styles and understandings of the music. The 'roots' of the music are important, but cannot be traced back along a single pathway to a single 'authentic' or 'pure' point of origin. Although I believe a knowledge of the history of the music, and the material conditions under which it was developed, are useful in aiding our understanding of the music.

We should also be careful not to reduce the form to some single characteristic. A number of people seem to believe that the 'essence' of the music is in its emotional qualities (which are clearly important). Here, however, we should be particularly careful; it is all too common to describe (originally) 'black' cultural forms in terms of emotion, spontaneity, rhythm, purity, etc. in (an implied) opposition to 'white' musical forms which are, therfore, rational, composed, melodic, etc. There are obvious racist implications to this. Although I hasten to add that I'm not suggesting that any of the above contributors is being in any way racist. Hang on whilst I try and get the lid back on this can of worms . . .

Brian


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Fortunato
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 10:57 AM

The blues is/are like zen. Words alone cannot capture it. Yet we have only words here on the mudcat. We have inference: "Have you ever been mistreated?" "My door key don't fit no more.", etc. We have diagrams: "12 bars,..", etc. We have John Lennon's "chair".

I have seen a dredlocked, technically adequate, young man play a National guitar and sing in the Taj Mahal manner. Yet his voice did not convince me that he had lived the emotionality he portrayed. He may in time.

Some are actors when they sing the blues. In all art there is the artist and the audience. Both must know and feel the blues for the transmission to reach. Arbitration is not possible. IMHO fortunato


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 01:11 PM

All true, I suppose, but if you're looking for a definition of blues, it helps to give some thought to the history and form as well as the content. We seem to be putting the blues on a pedestal here, and using its exalted status as an argument against examining its roots and structure. Admittedly, like a lot of music, it doesn't lend itself to being fully explained in just a few sentences. But I will confess that all this talk about "if you have to ask, you don't know" or the "zen-like" aspect of the blues really doesn't explain anything to me.

You can't sum up a Monet painting by analyzing the brush strokes, or a Shakespeare play by counting the words. But while I would acknowledge that these were inspired works by true masters, I don't think it is inappropriate to look at the forms and structures that were employed in their creation. Shouldn't we do the same with the blues?


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: M. Ted (inactive)
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 03:16 PM

I am with Whistlestop on this, all the way (sorry, I know it would be more fun if we disagreed, but...)

I have sat through enough blues Festivals to seriously question the insights of anyone who thinks that is is hard to define what the blues is--or what it is not--it seems pretty clear to me--

As a musician, I am fascinated by the each of the elements of the the blues, and especially by the way that complex music can be created by interlacing such simple elements--

The blue note, or notes, (because there are several tasty little intervals that you can bend) open up a different world when you understand the simple tricks that dictate the way they are used--

And of course, the blues bass figures, which seem to have re-defined all of popular music--

Mostly though, blues is a system that gives you the tools to be creative with musical ideas in a way that is difficult with other musical forms--

Mbo, sorry to disappoint your ethnomusicology instructor, but blues is not a state of mind, is is a set of rules that almost anyone can use to create and express musical ideas--


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Easy Rider
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 04:02 PM

Doesn't Blues have a specific form or form type? There is 8 bar blues and 12 bar blues, and they each follow a certain structure in their chord progressions. There is also a Blues scale. Certain notes in the standard scale are flatted or sharped. The theorists could tell us more about that.

If a piece follows a certain structure and scale, then it is a Blues, whether it is "Folk" or Jazz, traditional or commercial.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Froodo
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 04:53 PM

You either have the blues or not. If you got the blues, you sing and play the blues.

It takes a worried man to sing a worried song...


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Caitrin
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 05:04 PM

This reminds me of an argument we've had many times over in my English lit. class..."What is poetry?" Ask 3 people, you get 6 or 7 opinions. Many of the same arguments about form and feeling have been made in the poetry discussion. I had never thought of the blues and poetry having that particular sort of connection. Thank you, Mudcat, for making me think a bit more.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Amos
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 05:17 PM

Whistle, that was elegant and beuatiful piece of analysis. The thrust of these multicolored threads, it seems to me, is that the Blues is the music of a uniwue moment of historical convergence -- where the big rivers of Africa, Dixie, and the industrial revolution collide with the Cotton Belt and bounce back up into the cities from natchez to Greenwich Village... and that is the confluence in which the Blues is defined. Not the emotion alone, not Africa alone, not slavery alone, and not just the cotton gin and the disruptive economic shifts that began then. But it's a frozen, arbitrary snapshot about where it was born, because they're still being played today. When M. Ted says it is pretty clear what is and isn't It, he's (I imagine) talking about the threads and resonances of that time, being brought forward, regardless of other spinoffs such as rockabilly and rock-and-roll and Gershwin and camp-meeting numbers. The blues _is_ a clear voice when it carries that convergence forward, including the emotional and musical components.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: GUEST,Lowcountry
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 07:06 PM

Well, see, all instruments used to be blue. That was the blues. Then Buck Owens superimposed the white and red stripes upon the blue, and it's pretty much been downhill from there. At least that's my understanding.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Barky
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 07:31 PM

Blues: A style of music evolved from southern Black American secular songs and usually distinguished by slow tempo and flatted thirds and sevenths.

~Barky


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Guy Wolff
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 09:09 PM

Hi Gang, Great thread Mr. Shambles...I guess figuring out how to play some songs from all the greats like Robert Johnson , Sun House <><><> gets people on the track of understanding the musical medium. So I guess we all need to start from somewhere, but there comes a moment when the earth quake has just gone off in ones life and then the very things you started with become a real life-line.I would say the talk about feelings is very pertenent to the question at hand..If any one has been lucky enough to be around someone working through child birth they have seen the sucsess that comes with not runing away from the pain but breathing though it;not wallowing in it by any means but understanding theres no place left to go.The real gift of the blues is it can give you a way to get through moments that are, and should be inpossable to get through.!!!!There is no harm in saying if you have'nt been there you wouldnt understand. If you have been there you wouldnt wish it to happen to anyone ever again!!<><><><><<>Blues is not running away from the pain of our lives but breathing through them and surviving. All my best to you all, Guy


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: ddw
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 09:15 PM

Whistle, I'm not sure I understand. Are you arguing that mixing minors into major progressions is a defining characteristic of blues? If so, I have to take exception. I know bunches of blues songs that have narry a minor in sight, relying entirely on majors and sevenths. On the other hand I know bunches of songs — folk and otherwise — that use minors extensively in major progressions. Many songs in C major use relative minors — Am, Em, Dm. What am I missing in your argument?

And Barky, hundreds of blues songs are anything but slow tempoed. Some are, but I don't think it's useful as a defining characteristic.

david


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: M. Ted (inactive)
Date: 27 Mar 00 - 10:40 PM

Blues uses blue notes--notes that are bent, damped, otherwise altered-, to accentuate rhythmic figures, as well as the concept of repeating a melodic phrase against chordal changes in order to achieve varying degrees of dissonance--

The minor against a major is a really typical way of doing this, Playing something like a "G" on the high e string against an E major chord-- as is the raised fourth against the fifth and the seventh against the octave--


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 08:34 AM

I'm enjoying this discussion, and getting a lot of insight from it. Ddw, I think the blues is a varied musical form, and like most music it can't be summed up completely by one or two "signature" characteristics. And I will grant you that there are blues that don't seem to emphasize, or even include, all of the defining characteristics. But you have to start somewhere, and for me the "minor against a major" tonality (as embodied in a minor third played against a major I-IV-V chord progression) is a good place to start. As M.Ted correctly points out, there are other "tasty intervals" (well said!) that also are characteristic of the blues, and can give other musics a "bluesy" quality. There's also the standard 12-bar structure, although I think most of us recognize that the 12-bar form isn't an absolute requirement by any means, nor is it limited to the blues. And I agree with you that the slow tempo is probably not something that should be seen as an essential element of the blues.

As for relative minors, that's really another matter. Western musics have made use of relative minors (the Am in the key of C, for example) as a basic building block for hundreds of years; this should not be seen as a defining characteristic of the blues. The blues took certain tonalities that would be considered "wrong" in conventional western music, and employed them to great effect. Then we all took that basic start and ran with it, adding in other elements that broadened the music -- a good thing, but it makes it harder for all of us to settle on a concise definition. That's why we're having so much fun now...


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Easy Rider
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 09:02 AM

HERE is the RIGHT answer:

How To Sing The Blues


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Lady McMoo
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 10:17 AM

Ah....the "boxes" again!

i.e. the "blues" box, the "folk" box, the "traditional" box, the "jazz" box and so on...

As I've said many times before...why DO we need to categorize music, art, etc. in this way?

I grew up in an "Irish music" playing household, played "rock music" at university, ran an acoustic music club for many years where most of the performers did "folk" (with "celtic (small c)", "blues" and the odd monologue or poem thrown in). Most of what I do now is a mixture of all of these (while respecting where all of these forms came from and the factors that influenced their development) with probably a fair bit of "jazz" influence for good measure.

So what do I play now...and does it really matter how it's categorized?

Am I still allowed to be in the Mudcat!

mcmoo


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Steve Latimer
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 10:28 AM

I have to go with Mbo on this one. I've heard lots of people play the structure of the blues, but if you don't have the feel that comes form the state of mind, it's no the blues.

The Blues is Son House, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Willie McTell, Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howling Wolf, Billie Holiday, Taj Mahal, Johnny Winter and many others.

It is not seventeen year old white kids who've heard Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Regardless of what it is or isn't,thank God we have it, it's my favourite kind of music.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: GUEST,Neil Lowe
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 11:08 AM

To me, the blues are embodied in the musician's approach to the instrument, especially (but not limited to)the guitar and harmonica, or in the case of a singer, the voice. It's a feeling that's magically imparted to the phrasing of the notes or the riff - the perceivable effort put into the way the notes are manipulated to make them "cry," expressively - that engenders the same feeling in the listener, as if the listener now "sympathizes" with the note or phrase. Sometimes it's in the way the musician extends one note, letting that note carry the feeling for what seems like an eternity, driving home the point. Sometimes it's in the intonation.

In this context, the blues aren't restricted to I-IV-V in 8, 12, or 16 bars, amplified or unamplified, fast or slow; nor are they dependent on the words being sung, but more on the sound of the words. Which is why "Sittin' On Top Of The World," with its affirming refrain, is still a blues tune. And why the stuff I consider "uptown" - the slick, refined and polished stuff - like Robert Cray, is blues. Also why technically gifted whiz-bang guitarists, like Eddie Van Halen, or any of the other speed demon "shredders" that readily come to mind, can never play the blues. Long on flash, short on feeling.

I know I'm speaking in abstracts, using terms like "feeling" without defining it. If it grabs me - if a riff or a vocal line makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck - and I have to stop what I'm doing and just listen, then to me it's blues. And a "keeper." No other genre of music has the same effect on me.

IMO, Neil


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: M. Ted (inactive)
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 11:40 AM

There is a particular quality that makes blues work--you can hear two people play the same lick--when one person does it, it's blues, when another does it, it's just a lick--

I used to try and explain this to my blues guitar students, and the best that I could come up with was that they had to learn to touch their strings in the way that they touched a person that they really cared about--not necessarily like a lover(which is the first thing people always think of), but like a child that you were afraid for, or that you needed to be forceful with, or maybe that you were really proud of--

The important thing was that it could be all different sort of emotions--but the most important thing was that it wasn't just smash, thrash, bash, there is restraint and subtly to it--


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 12:36 PM

Mcmoo, I agree that we shouldn't be bound by the categories, and that it's not really necessary to even pay much attention to them. I play the music I want to play, whether or not it fits neatly into a defined category, and I would encourage others to do the same. However, if someone asks "what is blues?" I assume they want a definition of a category. If other people feel there's no value in this sort of analysis, they needn't participate.

As for a lot of the rest of the comments here, they seem more intent on defining blues as any music that is heartfelt. I think that does an injustice to other forms of music which might be just as emotional and sensitively performed, but do not meet the historical, technical or structural definition of the blues. In my world, heartfelt and sensitively played music is "good music," regardless of what genre it falls into. There's good blues, folk, jazz, rock'n'roll, classical, etc., and there are also plenty of examples of bad music in all of those categories. What constitutes "good" or "bad" music within any category is subjective, of course. But I don't think the "good music is blues, bad music is not" angle really makes a lot of sense.

Submitted for your consideration, with all appropriate humility.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: M. Ted (inactive)
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 12:53 PM

Duke Ellington said, "If it sounds good, it is good."


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 02:22 PM

Mr. Ellington was a musical genius if there ever was one.


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Subject: RE: What is Blues?
From: Bert
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 02:23 PM

It's not just 'the condition' or 'depression', it's a particular culture's expression of those things. All cultures have 'the condition' and 'depression' but express them very differently. English Music Hall, from much the same era, dealt with the same emotions but expressed them with humour and satire. The stories in the songs 'Never let your Donah go upon the stage' and 'It's a great big shame' would have been handled quite differently by blues singers.

Perhaps the reason I don't (read can't here) sing the blues is because I was raised in London with it's singing heritage rooted in Music Hall and Parlour Songs. I just don't FEEL that way.

Bert.


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