----- Original Message -----
From: "Thomas Stern" <[log in to unmask]>
> this is a fascinating area for discussion-I think some rigorous research
> is needed.
> I remember little of the TIME LINE of the blues revival - certain
> critical events stand out in my mind: Sam Charters
> "The Country Blues" book, the by subscription release of Charly Patton
> on Origin, and certainly the Robert Johnson first LP
> on Columbia. These were late events in the sequence. Foggy
> recollections of what was available early in
> the game (to non-"race records" audiences) -i.e. the late forties/early
> fifties: Library of Congress African-American 78's & LP's, Folkways
> Harry Smith Anthology, Stinson LP's (from 1940's Asch & Disc 78's) of
> Josh White and Leadbelly.
> Some Big Bill Broonzy on Columbia 78's, and the Mercury LP (was that
> 50's????). Riverside, primarily interested
> in early jazz issued some blues performances from Paramount 78's (Blind
> Lemon, Ma Rainey). There were also other primarily jazz labels which
> had some blues representation (Jax, Jolly Roger) Historical had a jazz
> and blues
> series of compilation LP's, and also a country series. Iirc, the
> reissues of the 78's spurred the search for
> those performers, culminating with the "rediscovery" of Mississippi
> John Hurt, Son House, et.al. Arhoolie was releasing
> important blues performers who were not rediscoveries, demonstrating the
> vitality of the tradition. Arhoolie LP's were
> sold primarily by mail order, through a blues record club before the
> 'revival' got them into stores (repackaged, slicker
> jackets and no mimeographed notes) .
> When did Bob Koester's blues recordings become available (Sleepy John
> Estes, Big Joe Williams...)
> In the UK (via Dobell's, they had another trading name for export) there
> were interesting ep's on Swedish Blues Society,
> Collector, and even RCA (a series of 3 ep's, available singly of
> Leadbelly, Jug Bands, maybe Furry Lewis), a wonderful
> German Brunswick LP of rural blues singers - don't remember if that
> pre-dated Folkways The Country Blues.
> There must be interviews with many of the british blues artists which
> indicate what their sources were - what they
> were listening to in the 50's????
> What was the relative importance of 20-30's 'country/rural' blues
> compared to electirc 'Chicago" blues on the British,
> and American performers?
> There was a series of 3 Rolling Stones lp's issued in Japan which
> collected the recordings they did in Chicago in homage
> to the Chess blues performers. JoAnn Kelly must have heard either
> originals or reissues, drawing heavily on Memphis Minnie.
> Another issue worthy of some discussion - how did information about
> these recordings get disseminated (Sing Out,
> Little Sandy Review covered these, as did the little jazz
> publications.....what uk publications?.)
> I hope someone can put these things into their proper time frame.
Okeh...the best I know (and I don't claim to be an expert!):
Blues music seems to have originated more or less spontaneously
among southern (USA) Blacks over the late 19th century. Needless
to say, the academic musicologists...or, for that matter, most
white folks of the period (try "all!") were totally unaware of
this occurrence. As near as further experts can tell, it came
from a mixture of several musical forms...the African ancestral
music of ex-slaves only a couple of generations removed from
their tribal past...the hymns and "call and response" singing
of the churches of that era...the Anglo-Celtic folk music of
their masters...as well as other so-far-unknown musical
influences available to these "ur-bluesmen."
W. C. Handy, who is often credited as the author of the first
published blues song, recounts in his autobiography the story
of hearing an itinerant musician playing primitive "slide
guitar" (he says fretted by a knife. but doesn't go onto
details) and singing a ditty he notes as "Goin' where the
Southern cross the 'Dog'" which was a folk idiom for the
junction of two well-known railroads. Handy cites that as his
first...and an influential...contact with "blues."
In any case, the times were ripe...with Ragtime beginning to
fade and "jass" beginning to rise...for any music that could
be credibly called "Black" music. Further, the simple structure
of the 12-bar blues lent itself well to the improvisation that
defines jazz...indeed, it is very possible that folk blues songs
were part of the repertoire of the New Orleans jazz originators!
In 1916, the ODJB cut what are supposed to be the first recordings
of jazz; note that one of the tunes was not only titled as a "blues"
but was indeed a 12-bar blues tune. These records led in turn to
a "jazz" fad (which included blues). One of the side effects of
this development was the recording (by the smaller labels) of
Black blues and jazz performers. When Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues"
became popular and made money for the Okeh label, that firm
decided to issue "race" records, aimed at Black customers
(note that Okeh already had a profitable sideline of "ethnic"
records using sides obtained via its Lindstrom connection...
the Black demographic was viewed as another ethnic group!).
Since the record companies, almost all based in New York
City or recording there, had no idea where/how to find
artists whose blues records would sell, they usually
trusted people they knew...often salesmen based in
the US south!
The firms had started by recording "vaudeville blues"
artists...usually female singers recounting "tales of
woe" of how they had been abused by their menfolk, but
still loved them anyway...backed up by small jazz bands
or, occasionally, pianists. Around 1923-24, Paramount
and Okeh first experimented with "country blues"...
male blues singers self-accompanied on a stringed
instrument (usually guitar, althouh mandolin and
banjo are also known). This style came closer to
reflecting the music that Black record buyers across
the US south knew; when it sold well, the labels set
out to issue more of it, but realized they knew
absolutely nothing about whomever played it! They
hired artists to record "by guess and by gosh"...and
evidence of both competence and INcompetence survives
One effect of this, of course, was that blues music
itself trended toward standardization. The blues
artists performing in the "jook joints" knew they
would be asked for recorded "hits"...and therefore
made a point of learning those tunes off the records.
Note that I could go on to recount how electric guitars
replaced acoustic ones, and how "Big Bill" Broonzy
introduced (AFAIK) the idea of using a small combo for
backup instead of his own guitar...but this message
is already getting unmanageably long...
Steven C. Barr