The blues first came out of the cotton fields of the southern United States –
particularly in the Mississippi delta – in the mid-1860s,
when African slaves, deprived of their customs and culture, transformed work songs
and field hollers into a vocal and instrumental music that featured the banjo, violin
and guitar or any other object capable of producing a compelling sound.
Some claim the official baptism of the blues dates back to February of 1920 with
the recording of the Mamie Smith LP Crazy Blues in New
York City. Before then, however, guitarist and Delta Blues pioneer Charley Patton,
born in Mississippi in 1891, had written such songs as Down the Dirt Road Blues
and Poney Blues, though his first recording (A Spoonful Blues)
was not released until 1929. Also popular at the time were such classic blues singers
as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Ida Cox.
The Blues Hit the Road
The 1920s were also marked by the migration of Afro-Americans from the South to
the big cities of the northern United States. In search of jobs and hoping for a
better future, they were also fleeing racial segregation. These circumstances gave
rise to different regional blues styles, including the East coast blues, a version
much lighter than its soul-searing Mississippi delta cousin.
Before and after the Second World War, Chicago, then a bustling industrial hub,
was a destination of choice for newcomers and job seekers. Among them were John
Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and Big Maceo.
With bluesmen from everywhere flocking to the city, which was home to several recording
studios, Chicago was soon anointed "Home of the Blues."
Muddy "Mississippi" Waters was among leading figures
in the development of urban blues, a phenomenon that grew mainly out of Chicago
and was characterized by the addition of instruments such as electric guitar, bass
and amplified harmonica. Chuck Berry and Buddy Guy would draw heavily from the
urban blues style of the 1950s – be it from Chicago, Detroit or Kansas City.
Each in turn created an updated versions of the rural work songs out of which the
early blues emerged, and each exerted a powerful influence on rock groups from the
1960s, including The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones.
name B.B. King
is synonymous with the blues. Born in Mississippi in the 1920s, the blues guitarist
and singer/songwriter moved to Memphis, where he patented a sometimes mordant, cutting
style influenced by the swing- and jazz-inspired blues of Lonnie Johnson
and T-Bone Walker. In the late 1940s King put together a string
of hits (including You Know I Love You and Woke Up This Morning)
that spurred legions of imitators. In the 1960s and 1970s, King even tried his hand
at rock. The great B.B. King was an inspiration to an entire generation of musicians,
from Eric Clapton to U2.
guitarist John Lee
Hooker cut his teeth in the 1940s and 1950s. His career really
took flight in the 1960s, however, at the time of the British blues boom with
John Mayall and The Rolling Stones. Even today,
the one-of-a-kind Hooker, forever his own man, remains one of the
icons of the genre.
The 1970s Until Now
The 1970s witnessed the emergence of blues-rock with the likes of Johnny Winter.
The 1970s were the golden age of the electric guitar, revered, more than ever, after
the sudden death of Jimi Hendrix. During this period, the blues,
increasingly, were being played by white musicians, and the talented Fenton
Robinson, Phillip Walker and Lonnie Brooks,
to name but a few, were largely overshadowed by such blues titans as Eric Clapton
and Joe Cocker. As a consequence, several Afro-American artists
soon turned to soul, reggae or hip-hop.
Also making his mark at this time was American guitarist George Thorogood, flanked by his group
The Destroyers. By the 1980s the genre had lost a bit of its soul
at the hands of a more commercial brand of blues, yet its popularity remained undiminished
thanks to the genre's legendary figures. In 1983, Stevie Ray Vaughan
injected new life into the blues with the album Texas Flood, as did
Robert Cray, with his 1986 hit album Strong Persuader.
In 1990, Vaughan's death in a plane crash robbed the blues
of a monster talent. In the ensuing decade many of the genre's classics were
remastered in CD format, and blues artists such as Lucky Peterson
and Kenny Neal vaulted to success on Chicago's newly-minted
Alligator label, whose roster also included some veteran talent. Also in the 1990s,
Eric Clapton marked a comeback with the album Unplugged.
While the new generation of bluesmen such as Bernard Allison and
Popa Chubby seem to bear the influence of Vaughan,
Hendrix and hard rock, the early blues, as poignant and nostalgic
as ever, are still played and enjoyed the world over.
Blues at the Festival
is undoubtedly among the torchbearers of the blues in Québec. Walsh has performed
at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal on more than ten occasions
since 1984. To mark the Festival's 25th edition in 2004, the bluesman served
up a concert for the ages, and in 2009 Walsh returned to deliver another rousing
performance, serving notice that the blues, in Québec, are in good hands.
Steve Hill, another big name
on the Québec blues scene, is also a favourite of Festival fans. Hill has
appeared at the Festival on several occasions, and in 1999 he shared the stage with
Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughan. In the summer of
2009, Hill gave an impressive show alongside Jean-Sébastien Chouinard, aka
With guests such as
Carl Tremblay and Jean Millaire, we can safely
say that the Festival has given fans the very best that Québec blues has
to offer. Accompanied by grizzled blues veterans Bob Harrisson and Jimmy James, the three musicians
were on hand to launch Blue Wednesdays at L'Astral a few months after the conclusion
of the 2009 Festival.
The great B.B. King is also among the blues legends who have graced
the Festival stages over the years. In addition to his visit in the summer of 2006,
King was part of a memorable showdown with Buddy Guy in 1995. A
Festival regular, the latter was on hand to mark its 30th anniversary, performing
alongside Susan Tedeschi.
Also bringing their warm and powerful voices to the 2009 Festival were blues artists
Eli Paperboy Reed,
and Diunna Greenleaf.