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Who Was The Best Blues Guitar Player?

Although there are literally hundreds of blues guitar players coming mostly from the American South, only a relative few became known as big names. Of those, most became famous well after their deaths. A number of blues men were quite famous in their day, but were far from rich. So we have the dichotomy of fame on those days and fame as it's perceived now, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. Robert Johnson's name comes up again and again, but when he was active (and he died at the age of 26) he wasn't much known at all, just playing regional American music in bars up and down the country.

Most players moved up North from the deep south and perfected their art in the cities, very often Chicago. Big Bill Broonzy became quite a star in the 30s and 40s, often playing guitar with 4 or 5 different bands of musicians in venues all over the city to make a living. It was probably a hard drinking life with not much to recommend it except for excitement, liquor and women. Even Bill's talents couldn't stop him from falling from race when guitarists like Muddy Waters introduced the new electric blues music to the crowds. Broonzy was re-discovered in the 50s and enjoyed another few years of fame in Europe as a folk-blues artist.

Many blues men never made it past their 30s and we can only listen to their records in wonder, although some like Willie McTell, Scrapper Blackwell, Mississippi John Hurt and Reverend Gary Davis survived into their 60s. Interestingly enough, these men that had a huge impact on the blues in general and morn music later on, were not really famous. Blackwell was enormously talented and did enjoy some success as the guitarist half of a duo formed with piano player Leroy Carr, but he too fell into obscurity, being re-discover and making a few records in the 70s.

As can be imagined, many of the re-discovered artists couldn't perform as they did in their peak, simply because they stopped playing for one or two decades and tried to pick it up again, which never really works. Son House was asked to perform again and had to turn his back to the audience because of his nerves! One notable exception was Reverend Gary Davis, who never really stopped playing. He was obliged to play Gospel and blues guitar on the streets to make a living, sometimes teaching at home. Even at 65 he was playing stunning guitar in all styles and eventually made enough money to by a house in the West Indies to retire.

Blues Music - The Origins Of Rock And Roll

Popular music has always reflected the feelings of the common people and their times, whatever period they lived in. In the present day, the problems we encounter are very different from those suffered by the descendents of the Negro slaves in the Mississippi Delta, for example. It's generally acknowledged that the Delta was the crucible that formed the original blues music, spawning such blues men as Son House, Leadbelly and the legendary Robert Johnson.

Even before guitars were widely used to create basic songs, workers in the Deep South would sing 'field hollers', a type of song without music that used a strong rhythm to help the associated work, which was often very repetitive, such as digging, cutting or chopping. Old films of Gandy Dancers exist that show this perfectly. Gandy Dancers were workers who moved along the railroad aligning the rails using long steel crow bars. A team of men would all push at the same time to maximize their force and the song provided the exact timing for this kind of work.



Although a typical blues song followed the 12 or 8 bar format, very often in the key of E or A, another form of the blues appeared that expressed the spiritual aspects of people's lives, and the Spiritual style of roots music was born. Typically, such a song took the form of call and repsonse, where the singer would either be answered by other singers, or by his guitar in later years. The road to modern blues music is paved with many different styles from various guiarists from almost every state in America, acoustic blues guitar lessons should relect this diverse spread.

In the 1930s it was common to have swing bands playing in noisy clubs or juke joints, often with a horn section and piano. The acoustic sound of a wooden guitar was becoming overcome by the other instruments, so the all metal construction of the National Steel type of guitar was favored. Very soon, more power was needed and the first electric guitar appeared. Although certain blues artists such as Big Bill Broonzy were very active in creating a new exciting way of playing, newcomers like Muddy Waters quickly saw the huge possibilities in playing a more amplified sound, with the extra tone effects that electronics brought to the overall sound.

It could be said that this was the time that rock and roll was born, when the new blues men adapted the old style traditional music that had it's roots in the African tradition and generated a new exciting sound that still contained all the power of the traditonal music.