“People keep asking me where the blues started and all I can say is that when I was a boy we always was singing in the fields. Not real singing you know, just hollerin’, but we made up our songs about things that was happening to us at that time, and I think that’s where the blues started.” As quoted by Son House, one of the first most important blues artists of all time.
This next video showcases just a bit of his blues, and he talks about his experiences with Robert Johnson. Robert Johnson learned from all the musicians he encountered and took this Blues style of music to a whole new level – to the point that he is called the Grandfather of Rock & Roll. But I love the way Son House speaks of Robert’s earliest musical moments.
Of course, there were generations of slaves who never learned to read or write – they simply were not allowed to. So music was simply learned from listening, and learning techniques from family and friends, then playing around with it enough to develop a personal style. The previous video dialogue illustrated that Robert Johnson spent hours listening to his musical mentors as they played on Saturday nights, and traveling to the Delta to learn the Blues.
In this next video clip, Ella Jenkins (known as one of the finest performers and advocates for children’s music, and for keeping her culture’s music alive) plays some Blues on the harmonica & talks about how she learned to play from her Uncle. (Ella is one of my personal musical heroes, as she truly loves to share her music and her heritage with children.)
Of course, Blues is certainly not the only style that was passed down to generations of musicians personally, without written form – MANY cultural styles from around the world use this learning method. But the focus here is African American music, and I hope you find these video clips really bring out this point.
Blues is a fabulous style to experiment with, esp. for following the basic blues chord progression and having fun improvising different melodies and lyrics through these familiar chords. Enjoy reading more about group improvisation in the next posting.