Loving the Blues

A Classic American music genre survive, evolves, and is alive and well in the Land of 1000 Dances.

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: January 7, 2009

Loving the Blues

The Blues‘«™whether it be a mood I'm in, or the sound of that sultry kind of music, I'm inclined to feel a sense "all is well, even when all is not well. Know what I mean? Let me tell you about it....

Blues music tells a story with each song, almost always telling of hard times, problems in life, with a sense of soulful rhythm & dark humor that let's you know everything will eventually be OK , more so than any other music.

I have been truly blessed to have grown up in the City of Angels in the Land of 1000 Dances , where I have been exposed to numerous genres of music for my musical and cultural education, and exposure to people different than I.

I remember playing & hanging around some Japanese & Jewish kids in my part of east Los Angeles in the early 1960's, where I was exposed to traditional Japanese music, and Jewish Klezmer (folk) music that their parents played on hi-fi's.

Being a second generation Mexican-American growing up in Los Angeles, I grew up with a daily dose of mariachi, ranchera (Mexican folk music) and early rock & roll in my house. We always seemed to have a radio on, and the variety TV shows of the 1960's like Ed Sullivan or Steve Allen, or early music shows like Lloyd Thaxton & Nat King Cole, etc, exposed me to Country, Broadway , Motown, and the Blues. I remember going to the Pacific Ocean Park in Long Beach around 1963 and hearing white surfer music and barbershop quartet for the first time.

But the Blues have always gotten my attention, influencing my taste in Oldies but Goodies.

I remember seeing singers like Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dinah Washington sing the blues on TV as a young kid, and I fell in love with that slow, sultry, almost evil sound .

Around 1973, during one of the Sunny & Cher TV shows, Ray Charles and Cher sang a duet of Ray Charles' blues classic "Georgia", where they ad libbed the lyrics, calling out each other's names, and I was very impressed, still remembering that performance almost 36 years later.

While serving overseas in the military, I met black & white guys from the southern states of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida, who introduced me to "Delta" and Country style blues. White guys from the Midwest were also playing blues by guys like Eric Clapton, Led Zepplin, and the Allman Brothers, that featured heavy electric rock guitar solos. Other black guys introduced me to "Chicago" and "Ghetto" style blues .

I've even heard Filipino, Okinawan, and Hawaiin rock bands at many military enlisted men's clubs play the blues with great talent & sound back in the early 1970's.

In Los Angeles, Chicanos like the great Lalo Guerrero combined jazz & swing with bi-lingual Spanish lyrics and recorded some blues classics in the 1940's, and the Latino style of fusing Latin Jazz with Afro-Cuban sounds, and bi-lingual lyrics with attitude into an almost tropical style of blues just a step or two slower than Salsa adds yet another dimension to this genre as evidenced by such current bands as the BLUES STRAIGHT UP BAND, THE BOBBY RODRIGUEZ BAND, THE DELGADO BROTHERS BLUES BAND, and the JUMPIN' JACK BENNY .

There are even "Desert Blues" originating in the African Sahara Desert, believe it or not, that has a historical connection to American Blues.

I did some research on the Blues and I found this excerpt on Wikipedia Internet Encyclopedia:

Blues music is a vocal and instrumental form of music based on the use of the "blue notes", later shortened to " the Blues". It emerged around the mid 1880's as an accessible form of self-expression in African-American communities of the United States from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads handed down from African slaves as they immersed into the American population .

The use of blue notes and the prominence of call-and-response patterns in the music and lyrics are indicative of African influence.

The blues influenced later American and Western popular music, as it became the roots of jazz, rhythm and blues, bluegrass and rock and roll. In the 1960s and 1970s, a hybrid form called blues rock developed from the combining of blues with various rock and roll forms.

The phrase "the blues" is a reference to the the Blue Devils, meaning "down" spirits, melancholy, and sadness. An early reference to "the blues" can be found in George Colman's one act farce Blue Devils (1798).

Though the use of the phrase in African American music may be older, it has been attested to since 1912, when Hart Wand's "Dallas Blues" became the first copyrighted Blues composition. In lyrics the phrase is often used to describe a depressed mood

There are few characteristics common to all blues, because the genre takes its shape from the idiosyncrasies of individual performances. However, there are some characteristics that were present long before the creation of the modern blues.

An early form of blues-like music were call-and-response shouts, which were a "functional expression... style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure. A form of this pre-blues was heard in slave field shouts and hollers, expanded into "simple" solo songs laden with emotional content.

The blues, as it is now known, can be seen as a musical style based on both European harmonic structure and the African call-and-response tradition, transformed into an interplay of voice and guitar, sometimes enhanced by harmonica, keyboards, and brass.

Many blues elements, such as the call-and-response format and the use of blue notes, can be traced back to the music of Africa. The Diddley bow, a homemade one-stringed instrument found in parts of the American South in the early twentieth century, and the banjo are African-derived instruments that may have helped in the transfer of African performance techniques into the early blues instrumental vocabulary. Blues music later adopted elements from the "Ethiopian airs", minstrel shows and Negro spirituals, including instrumental and harmonic accompaniment. The style also was closely related to ragtime, which developed at about the same time, though the blues better preserved "the original melodic patterns of African music".

The blues form itself bears no resemblance to the melodic styles of the West African griots, and the influences are faint and tenuous . And no specific African musical form can be identified as the single direct ancestor of the blues, making it a bonafide American creation.

Blues first began getting recorded around the early 1920's. Songs from this period, such as Lead Belly's or Henry Thomas's recordings, show many different structures. The twelve-, eight-, or sixteen-bar structure based on tonic (I), subdominant (IV) and dominant chords (V) became the most common forms. What is now recognizable as the standard 12-bar blues form is documented from oral history and sheet music appearing in African American communities throughout the region along the lower Mississippi River, in Memphis, Tennessee's Beale Street, and by white bands in New Orleans.

Thus has this unique form of music survived and evolved to what we enjoy today around the World, heard in one way, shape, or form on any radio station if you listen long enough.

An L.A. Blues Summit is in the works, similar to the few Blues Festivals held around the City of Angels‘«™seems we just can't get enough of a good thing, and the Whittier Radisson Hotel will be the spot.

More info to come here on LatinoLA‘«™log on regularly for more 411

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme can be heard daily on 3 world wide Internet Radio stations ~ eastLArevue.com , chicanoExpress.com, ~ djchentemrog.com/RADIOSHOW.htm
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