I could talk about The Blues. I could talk about Lead Belly and the classic songs he wrote while in prison for killing a guy in a fight, or the other jail time he did for assault of a prostitute or attempted homicide in some other fight he was in. I could talk about Robert Johnson, who only recorded about 20 songs, all considered classics, before dying at 27 ( the original member of the '27 club') and the deal he was supposed to have done with the devil. I could talk about Bessie Smith, the Empress of the blues, who died following a car crash after the hospital refused to admit her because she was black.
The history of the blues is without doubt, a rich and fascinating subject, full of legends, lies and truths, which, because these stories are, in so many cases purely anecdotal, makes them even more endearing.
However, the best way to find out about the blues is to watch Martin Scorsese's 6 film box-set called, rather unimaginatively 'The Blues'.
He got six directors, including himself, to make a movie about some aspect of the Blues and it is without doubt the best and most entertaining and informative documentary series I have ever seen. From close ups of Dr. John’s socks in Clint Eastwood's film about piano blues to Mark Levin's fascinating film about how a bunch of original blues musicians teamed up with Chuck D of Public Enemy to re-record/sample Muddy Waters classic 'Mannish Boy'.
All these films have some great vintage footage, wonderful anecdotes and, not surprisingly, some awesome music. That's your homework, to be done sometime between now and whenever.
I'd love to say that it was when I first heard Elmore James singing 'Dust My Broom' when I was 11 years old that I bought my first guitar, because that would be the cool thing to say, but of that would be a lie. I learned my first three chords when I was 16 with the sole purpose of getting girlfriends, it didn't work, and I wasn't aware of 'the blues' until years after.
I was aware of the British bands playing bluesy slow tunes but had no idea where the tunes came from. Then one day I heard a recording from 1927 of Bessie Smith singing "Nobody Know You When You're Down And Out", that's when I wanted to know more. The British bands were white long haired hippy types, which is I what thought Blues singers were meant to be.
It's interesting that the comparison between old blues singers and hip-hop singers today is that they both wanted to look as flashy as possible, In one of those movies I mentioned, one of the rappers was comparing album covers of the old blues men and the rappers now and it was all bling and posing with big cars.
I am rambling all over the place here, but suffice to say, from the Blues came rock'n'roll. Elvis Presley was in the studio doing an early session, when, during a break in the recording, he jammed with the bass player on an old Arthur Crudup song "That's Alright", the producer asked him what he doing and Elvis apparently said they were just messing about, so he made him record it again, and it got released and that was the start of the Elvis legend and some say the beginning of blues songs being heard by young white audiences on their radios.
Incidentally, Arthur Crudup never got the royalties he was due for that record, it wasn't Elvis's fault, he acknowledged what Crudup had done and several people tried unsuccessfully to get him Royalties but lawyers and businessmen pushed back on any deal for fear of high legal costs. Sadly Crudup died in poverty while working as a labourer to supplement his meagre earnings as a musician.
Elvis was most definitely not the sole conduit of blues to rock’n’roll to pop. I think the first pop star was actually Louis Jordan. My case for bestowing that title on him, next time…