from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A typical blues combo of the 1920s: The Cannon's Jug Stompers

Blues is a vocal and instrumental form of music that is in the Afro-American society in the United States has developed around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The blues forms the root of much of popular North American music. Jazz , rock , rock 'n' roll and soul are closely related to the blues. A reverberation of the blues can even be felt in styles like hip-hop . A common blues form has twelve bars, the melody is accompanied by three chords (basic harmonic function). The word blues is derived from the pictorial English description I've got the blues or I feel blue ("I'm sad").

The blue notes used in the melodies are an important element . Blues as a genre is also characterized by the texts, bass lines and instrumentation used. It was not until the first decades of the 20th century that the shape most commonly used today, the AAB pattern, emerged. In the early blues, the loose narrative form was common. The lyrics were mostly shaped by racial discrimination and other challenges faced by African Americans.

Roots, history, development

African-American slaves dance to the accompaniment of the banjo and percussion , around 1780

Early forms of blues emerged in the southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The blues is an independent form of black American folklore that cannot be traced back exclusively to other African-American forms of music such as gospel , negro spiritual and work songs (including field holler ). It contains elements of African, European and Caribbean music. Early blues forms are documented in vaudeville and minstrel shows of the late 19th century.

In the early stages, the blues was only part of the repertoire of African American musicians. It was supplemented by daily hits , ragtime , country songs and contemporary pop music . The musicians of that time were more "songsters" than "bluesers". Blues was popular music for colored people and its performers played at house and rent parties or public events. Only with the onset of commercialization by the record labels in the 1920s did a specialization in blues songs take place.

By 1910 the word “blues” had become common parlance. Singers like Bessie Smith , Ma Rainey and Alberta Hunter made the blues very popular among African Americans. The black musician and composer WC Handy (1873–1958) made a major contribution to popularizing the blues. In the period from 1911 to 1914, the publication of cell phones "Memphis Blues" (1912) and especially his " St. Louis Blues " (1914) aroused the interest of many people. He was one of the first to write down and arrange blues pieces for musicians and singers. Morton Harvey recorded the Memphis Blues as the first vocal blues record on Victor Records (No. 17657), released in January 1915.

The first Blue inclusion of a black artist applies That Thing Called Love by Mamie Smith , by the Okeh record label was launched in February 1920th In August 1920, Smith took up the track Crazy Blues , which was the first sung blue song to place in the charts and became a million seller. In the first month around 75,000 records were sold and the term blues became widespread.

Big Bill Broonzy recorded his first record in 1927 and, alongside Blind Lemon Jefferson , Tampa Red and Blind Blake, was a pioneer for the guitar-heavy folk blues of the following years.

Robert Johnson is often considered to be the most important figure of the delta blues , but he was a meaningless figure within the country or delta blues, his fame goes back exclusively to the phase of the rediscovery of the blues by the white audience in the 1950s and 1960s . However, Charley Patton is often cited as the father of the Delta Blues and central figure , who decisively influenced many later interpreters.

Due to the migration of many black people from the south to the north of the USA, especially to the big cities like Chicago and Detroit , the popular jazz there was decisively shaped and expanded by the urban blues . In the 1940s and 1950s, the big cities of the north - especially Chicago - saw an increasing refinement of the country blues popular in the southern states . The use of amplifiers (electric blues), which was characteristic of artists such as Memphis Minnie , Muddy Waters , John Lee Hooker and Howlin 'Wolf , also led to stylistic developments (e.g. to rhythm and blues ) .

By the 1950s, the archaic acoustic country blues had become popular again in the folk movement . The American Folk Blues Festival , at which greats such as John Lee Hooker , T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed performed , had a major influence on the growing popularity of the blues in Europe . But the electric, current blues have also been played in the US by radio DJs, especially Alan Freed , in their broadcasts since the mid-1940s . He also used the radio to reach white youths who otherwise would not hear him because of the segregation . Rock 'n' Roll emerged from a merger with rougher forms of country play such as honky tonk .

John Lee Hooker at the Long Beach Blues Festival on August 31, 1997

The social change in the 1960s led to an increased interest in Afro-American music, especially among young Americans, but also among young British people, and the blues became interesting for white musicians as well. In addition to the increasing number of live performances, newly founded music labels also played a role in this period , which in the 1920s to 1940s republished recordings on record samplers ( LPs ) recorded on 78 rpm records (e.g. Mamlish, Origin Jazz Library ( OJL), Yazoo ) or published new recordings of 'rediscovered' artists (e.g. Arhoolie , Biograph, Blue Goose , Prestige / Bluesville, Delmark). Many rock bands of the 1960s, especially in Great Britain, took the blues as the basis for their music and reimported it to the USA during the so-called " British Invasion " in the mid-1960s. Here, too, it was picked up by mostly white rock musicians (e.g. Butterfield Blues Band , Canned Heat and Johnny Winter ), who developed the various varieties of blues rock from it . Popular musicians and bands such as The Doors , Led Zeppelin , Jimi Hendrix , Eric Clapton , Alvin Lee , Peter Green , The Rolling Stones and Rory Gallagher were influenced by both acoustic and electric blues and derived their own styles from them.

In Germany, for example, in the early 1970s B. Al Jones Bluesband , Frankfurt City Blues Band and Das third Ohr continue the tradition of Muddy Waters or BB King . Later on, bands like the Mojo Blues Band (from Vienna ) or the Blues Company became popular. The band Das third Ohr, founded in 1968, was one of the first bands to perform the blues in German. German-language blues were particularly popular in the GDR , for example by Hansi Biebl , Jürgen Kerth , Klaus Renft and the Engerling group (see also blues scene ).

In the Afro-American community, the blues has long since been superseded as a popular form of music by other styles such as soul , hip-hop or R'n'B , but it lives in the work of white and African-American artists such as Susan Tedeschi , Ana Popović , Buddy Guy , Robert Cray , Luther Allison , John Primer , Stevie Ray Vaughan , Bonnie Raitt , Joe Bonamassa , The Black Keys , Jack White, and others.


Bluestexts are usually written in the first person, that is, the author or singer talks about actual or fictional personal experiences. However, these are usually so generalized that the listener can identify with the singer. Often the texts deal with discrimination, betrayal, crime, resignation , unrequited love, unemployment, hunger, financial hardship, homesickness, loneliness and infidelity. Often, however, it is about formulaic phrases that the singer adapts and changes to the given occasion. The cliché of the blues as mainly sad music, which he experienced during the rediscovery of the new white audience in the 50s and 60s, still lingers on the blues today. In fact, the majority of all blues pieces are lively and danceable and often articulate negative as well as positive moods in the lyrics. So there are also many cheerful, funny and optimistic blues pieces. In 1919 WC Handy was still speaking of blues pieces as "happy-go-lucky songs" . But the thematic spectrum of the blues is much larger and more diverse. Religion, politics (for example the Hitler Blues, which "The Florida Kid" Ernest Blunt recorded on Bluebird Records in 1940), women's rights, tyrannical superiors, sex and bitter sexism are also discussed . This last variant of the coarse-vulgar blues originated in the 20s and 30s and is known as Hokum- Blues. It was often sung by traveling musicians at work camps in the American South for the entertainment of the workers. The Hokum Blues musicians include a. Bo Carter and the Hokum Boys ( Tampa Red and Georgia Tom ), who had a hit in the 20s with the title "It's tight like that".

One of the most influential blues singers: Bessie Smith (1936)

The early blues pieces had an irregular rhythm and followed the rhythm of speech. A verse in early blues usually consists of three lines. The first line is repeated and is usually sung in the same or a similar melody. In the third line there is some kind of substantive reaction: an answer, explanation or reason, and the melody is different:

Well now, baby meet me in the bottom, bring me my running shoes
Well now, baby meet me in the bottom, bring me my running shoes
Well, I'll come out the window, won't have time to lose.
( Howlin 'Wolf, "Down In The Bottom" )

The purpose of repeating the first line is to give the singer more time to invent the third line in impromptu interpretations. In addition, a tension is built up, which only dissolves with the delayed third line. The lyrics in blues often don't seem to go with the music, but the singer can emphasize certain syllables and suppress others so that the rhythm is right. He can also vary the tones so that they match the bass and accompaniment.

The blues scheme

The standard blues scheme is the 12- measure cycle Blues (12-bar blues) in the bar form is written AAB: The first line of the song lasts four bars; it is repeated in the next four bars before the final line then takes place in the last four bars. The scheme is based on the chord progressions of the 1st level tonic , the 4th level subdominant and the 5th level dominant . Four bars of tonic are followed by two bars of subdominant and tonic, one bar each of dominant and subdominant and again two bars of tonic. The scheme in the form of a chordsheet :

||  I    |  I   |  I   |  I   |  IV   |  IV   |  I   |  I   |  V   |  IV   |  I   |  I   ||

The dominant can be played as the third from last chord instead of the subdominant.

This scheme has been greatly expanded and modified over time. In addition to the twelve-measure standard form, there are many other blues schemes. Examples are the 8-bar blues scheme, the 12-bar melodic minor blues scheme, in which the tonic and subdominant are each minor chords, but the dominant is a major- dominant seventh chord , or the 12-bar standard - Jazz Blues Scheme.

Quick change If the subdominant is played instead of the tonic in the 2nd bar of the blues scheme, this is called a quick change.

||  I   |  IV   |  I   |  I   | . . .

Turnaround The turnaround announces the end of the blues scheme and leads melodically and rhythmically back to the beginning of the scheme. The turnaround can be played either 1-bar or 2-bar. In a 2-bar turnaround, the dominant is often played in bar 12 instead of the tonic.

… |  I   |  V   ||

Blues in jazz

In jazz, the blues is actually only known as a harmony sequence. The classic blues form is often expanded and changed by the common jazz cadenza II-VI and jazz chords.

Jazz and blues came closest to each other in the early 1940s. In particular, Charlie Christian on the jazz side and T-Bone Walker as a representative of the blues brought these two styles of music together very closely.

Melody / instrumentation

Blues guitarist BB King at a concert at the White House on June 26, 2006

The melodic structure of a stanza corresponds to the content. The so-called blue notes are typical . These tones have no place in the chromatic twelve-tone system because they come from the African pentatonic scale. There are essentially two tones: a tone between a minor and a major third and one between a minor and a perfect fifth , each related to the root . Strictly speaking, the minor seventh is not a blue note . See also the article about the blue scales . Since the beginning of the 1920s, the (acoustic) guitar developed into the style-defining instrument of the Delta Blues . Until then, blues was often played by dance orchestras. There were apparently no fixed specifications for the line-up, although the clarinet , fiddle and banjo may have been represented in many orchestras of this type. Either a tuba , a barrel bass or the jug was used for the bass range. The often drawn image of the lonely blues singer singing the blues accompanied only by his guitar is a cliché. Joint appearances with other blues singers were just as common as solo appearances.

Guitars since the late 19th century through the industrial production and mail order even in backward Mississippi - Delta affordable accompanying instruments. In addition, guitars cope better with the climatic conditions in the hot and humid south of the USA than, for example, piano or banjo. Open moods were played almost exclusively . Today's standard tuning of the strings according to EAdghe 'began only later to establish itself among blues musicians.


See also

Portal: Blues  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of blues


Web links

Wiktionary: Blues  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Blues  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikibooks: Blues Guitar  - Learning and Teaching Materials

Individual evidence

  1. Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht: Terminology of Music in the 20th Century . Franz Steiner Verlag, 1995, ISBN 978-3-515-06659-4 ( ).