Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blues saga 2 : before the blues - spirituals and folk songs

Let's go back to our time travel to the blues' prehistory. I guess I'll post more often about old time blues, country and folk from now on.
Last time I told you about string bands being one of the most famous genre of 19th century popular music, and one of the main influences of the blues.
I see two other pre-existent styles that could be considered as the blues' parents (of course there are many more).

- Gospel and spirituals : the music played by itinerant preachers, "the guitar evangelists" is one of the main influences of the blues. You can find it on a beautiful compilations such as Gospel : Guitar Evangelists & Bluesmen 1927-44 (Frémeaux) or Document's Guitar Evangelists : 1928-51. Blind Willie Johnson is the most famous of them, but I'm gonna play a song by Washington Phillips who played a strange instrument, the dulceola.

Washington Phillips - Denomination Blues part 1 (buy) (Dallas, 5 dec. 1927, Columbia Records)

- Folk songs and songsters : the songsters are more than probably the inventors of the blues. They were itinerant singers going from town to town, singing whatever they were asked for. A product of segregation, they were making specific ballads for the Afro American audience. Their repertoire is not very different from the white singers', the sources are folk songs or novelty tunes; but they will adapt it for their listeners: the best example is "John Henry", an Irish nationalist ballad about a stagecoach driver who will become a steel-driving man. Here is another one, "Poor boy" very well-known by the French readers of Lucky Luke (a comic book about a cowboy), and which was sung by both black and white singers. Gus Cannon is one of the first Afro American who recorded it, in november 1927.

Gus Cannon - Poor Boy A Long Way From Home (buy) (Chicago, nov 1927, Paramount)

And then, one day, songsters started adding more personal songs to their repertoire, songs about the way of life of the Afro American community in the segregated States. And sang in the first person. And people gave them the name of "blues". But that's for our next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Two damn fine songs! Thanks. W.