Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Blues America BBC4

I’ve just finished watching the two part series shown on the BBC; Blues America.

An interesting view of blues and how it moved from black sub-culture through to mainstream white/inter-racial acceptance.

Some points I found interesting – like probably many European white boys I always saw the Blues as this folk music of the Southern USA black culture.  However it was interesting to note that even in the early 20th century people like W C Handy were actually taking the raw plantation blues and turning it into a successful commercial genre just that was still for the black audiences in the southern USA states.  Some of what I’ve previously thought was authentic roots music was still produced with a commercial bias. Interesting.

The re-explosion of the blues into the mainstream following the cross over of Elvis singing blues inspired rock n roll whilst Chuck Berry was singing white country inspired rock n roll was interesting.  By then of course the blues had migrated from the South in the depression of the 30s with the migration from their to the north, Chicago especially where much of what people would now recognise as modern electric blues came from.

Of course by the time Muddy Waters took to the stage at the Newport Jazz festival in the early 60s blues was old hat for many young black people but the electric style is what of course many of the English musicians picked up on.  Here is my one criticism of the programme, they did talk about The Rolling Stones bringing the blues to mainstream American consciousness but there is a whole other programme’s worth of material missed here – in the early 60s the blues explosion in the UK was immense, with artists who could barely make a living in their home country being lauded as total genius’s in the UK.  That re-injection of the blues back to the USA white audience was I think not given the importance it should have been – but there again it was Blues America – maybe I’m overly critical here.  However Chris Barber should be mentioned here he arranged for tours by Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and others which led to the likes of The Stones, Clapton, Peter Green etc. in switching on to this music.

Still it was a very interesting view of the migration of blues from South to North, from black culture to mainstream and from roots acoustic to big band and electrification.  There was a funny aside which talks about Alan Lomax, one of the blues hunters of the post war era who ended up in a fist fight over the Paul Butterfield Blues Band performing at Newport since he felt any electrification was fundamentally a betrayal of the blues roots.  


  1. Speaking of Newport...did you see that the Fender Bob Dylan played the year he went electric just sold at auction here in New York at Christie's? The estimate was $300,000 - $500,000 but it sold for $975,000. Astonishing. Dylan left it on a plane all those years ago. I wonder why he didn't want the damn thing?

    1. I did - how come that reached that amount? Not saying it isn't an iconic part of musical history but when you compare it being worth more than say "Blackie" which Eric used for so many years etc. Still I suppose if one of the major Hendrix ones came back up it would go for a fortune... The Peter Green / Gary Moore famous LP was reputed privately on sale for $2m at one point

  2. The whole Chris Barber/Blues in Britain story was avoided as the BBC already produced a documentary on that subject in 2009. Watch it on youtube here