The blues is a kind of music that can be vocal, instrumental (blues guitar) or both. It applies the ‘blue’ notes which are accomplished on a ‘minor pentatonic’ scale most of the time, otherwise known as the blues scale.
Blues music was inferred from the African-American communities in the U.S. out of job songs, spiritual songs, field hollers, chants, shouts and elementary ballads that rhymed. A lot of aspects of the blues comes from African culture
The call-and-response aspect of the music came straight from African origins and there were a lot of lines that would get duplicated thrice or more. This later developed into a line repeating twice and then on the third time around there would be an ‘answer line’. You will be able to still discover these characteristics of early blues in modern day music, especially hip-hop.
The term ‘The Blues’ refers to the ‘blue devils’ which signifies down spirits or unhappiness.
The blues guitar brings a important role in blues music as well as contemporary music. It has influenced Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Bluegrass and even heavy rock genres The original blues of the early 1900’s, differently known as “poor man’s blues” was usually related with hard times, oppressiveness from white folk, harshness of the police, gambling, economic depression, floods, magic, farming and dry periods. This music was fueled by a lot of heartache and sorrow. Usually a lost loved one or an general hostile surrounding invigorated the lyrics and the tone of the blues guitar.
After the world war, you start to see blues songs that were about family relationships and sexuality. Also, humor was broadened to the mix. Here is a funny example:
“That must be your woman, cause mine don’t look like that… I said That must be your woman, cause mine don’t look like that… Have you seen my baby? She’s so big and fat…”
The blues guitar style came forth from the American South’s instruments of the time which were the banjo and the Diddley Bow. This was a home-made one stringed instrument that was favorite in the early 20th century. Figures such as Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House and Blind Willie McTell were a part of the delta blues style which used a lot of finger picking proficiencies and slide guitar innovations.
Eventually, after WWII ‘electric blues’ became more and more popular where the blues guitar was played on electric guitars as were the bass guitars. This was most prevalent in the Chicago area.
The history of blues guitar and poor man’s blues is rich with culture and chronicles of good times and bad. I could go on for days about the history of the blues guitar but let’s make this part 1 so you don’t fall asleep on me!
Zack R is the founder of 50 Blues Studios. If you are a blues musician, find out how blues backing tracks will improve your blues guitar playing skills. Download free blues backing tracks.