The blues is a state of mind.

Its usually expressed via guitar or harp (1) and voice.

Those in the state of mind include Muddy Waters, and B.B. King.

Physically you can find the blues somewhere between St. Louis and Chicago. Though some people will tell you it only lives in the Mississippi river delta.

(1) harmonica

It starts, actually, with the pentatonic melodies of traditional Native American musics. You'd think Africa would be the starting place, but, after a while, the Nth-generation slaves had more immediate contact with Indians than they did with the Motherland (e.g. there were also Indian slaves in some locales, and there were periods in which runaway slaves found safehouses amongst the Native communities). Africa was just ancestral-memory stuff. The one innovation that probably came from there was rhythmic - syncopation and a generally freer pulse.

But while the indigenous US population suffered extermination and/or assimilation over the years, black culture was allowed to develop on its own - thus begins the forking of the blues. The field holler may be the closest thing to the blues' Indian roots (an aside: the watermelon salesman).

By the 19th Century, some black slaves had found special "house nigger" positions, via sports (e.g. horse racing - this is the origin of the odious "lawn jockey" decoration), and via music. There would soon be white composers and musicians imitating this new music, creating all sorts of forks in mainstream popular culture over the decades.

Another change from Native roots was the Western song form, probably brought about via another fork - the spirituals, the origins of gospel music. This presumably also introduced Western instrumentation into the mix.

The 20th Century begins the forking that leads to the multifaceted connotations that we now have when one says "blues". The jazz fork starts, arguably, in New Orleans, but a blues in jazz can now mean any number of things, since jazz (the fork most willing and able to incorporate innovation from European music) has been a venue of increasing complexity ever since the days of Buddy Bolden.

The guitar became the signature instrument of non-jazz blues, and, like the saxophone in jazz, where it eventually took over from the trumpet as King of the Instruments, it lent itself more readily to non-Western applications - neither Adolphe Sax nor the luthiers of olde had any idea of what would become of their creations.

To paraphrase blues master Sean "Puffy" Combs, it's all about the blue notes - the third and seventh degrees of the major scale, altered. The textbook definition might say "lowered", lowered to resemble the third and seventh degrees of the minor scale, but that either/or, major/minor dichotomy is a creation of the European tempered scale; in the rest of the world, musics had the freedom to hit those points in between. Fuzzy temperament, if you will. Indian (as in India) music, Chinese music, North African music, etc, etc, each have their own indigenous ways of being fuzzy - the blue notes (and you can include the flatted fifth degree as well) are the North American form. In blues, the sliding of a bottleneck along the guitar strings or the bending of those strings became a way to approximate the fuzzy movements that a good singer was capable of doing.

More forks: country music (which was always multicultural); Chicago blues, where rural Southern acoustic bluesicians moved North (and West, to places like California) - especially after World War II - and added heavy amplification, even to the harmonica. And rhythm and blues, which may have been, in part, a fork in jazz - the art-music people gravitated to bebop, while R&B kept closer to the dance-music simplicity of earlier eras. The jazz-based "jump blues" of the 30s/40s segued nicely into the R&B of the 50s.

By this point forks were already merging with other forks (and creating new ones), so it becomes silly to try to keep up with all this. Plus I've only covered one thread of what "the blues" is. I leave it to others to flesh this thing out.

Of course, I may have made this all up. All music is rock and roll anyway.

A shout-out to Professor Heretic, who made possible this writeup.

Next: the Puerto Rican and Jamaican origins of hip-hop.

Really.

Blues is typically identified by its twelve bar format. In many blues songs, the structure of the song is such that the keys change over 12 measures and then return to the initial state. Listen to BB King's The Thrill is Gone (which was the subject of a rap remake by Hammer) to get a clear presentation of the twelve bar structure in action. Interestingly, in general, songwriters in blues and R&B tend to register with BMI instead of the larger ASCAP.

The reason "Blues" is so hard to define is because the term encompasses such a wide variety of possible expressions, but if we insist on breaking it down, nearly all blues songs share three basic characteristics:

1. The blues scale: a minor pentatonic scale with an added raised 4th

2. A swing or shuffle beat

3. One of several common 8 bar, 12 bar, or 16 bar chord progressions

The Blues are a Super 14 rugby team based around Auckland, New Zealand. Originally known as Auckland, from 1997 onwards the name became simply Blues, in a renaming shared by other teams such as the (Wellington) Hurricanes and (Canterbury) Crusaders.

The Blues serve the upper third of the North Island of New Zealand, including Auckland and Whangarei. Their region contains the fewest provincial unions of any New Zealand team with only three: North Shore, Auckland, and Northland. However, all three unions are first-division NPC teams.

The Blues have featured several All Black stars such as Carlos Spencer and Kees Meeuws, and have put them to use in winning the title three times to date, including the first two seasons.

Home games for the team are played at Eden Park, Auckland, North Harbour Stadium, Albany (home of North Harbour) and Okara Park, Whangarei (home of Northland).

History

The Blues have had a mixed bag of results in past Super 12 and Super 14 seasons. Their end-of-season results are thus:

Year     Final Position     Competition Points     Notes
1996     1 (2)              41                     Beat Sharks in final
1997     1 (1)              50                     Beat Brumbies in final
1998     2 (1)              43                     Lost to Crusaders in final
1999     9                  23                     
2000     6                  30                     
2001     11                 21
2002     6                  29                     
2003     1 (1)              39                     Beat Crusaders in final
2004     5                  32
2005     7                  27
(Super 14 begins from 2006)
2006     8                  29
2007     4                  42                     Lost to Sharks in semi-final
2008     6                  40

This w/u is concerned with pre-1930's blues only. Most of its facts and musings can be applied to later days, but don't stake your life on it.

One thing we could say which sets the blues apart from its brothers of rock and roll, punk, jazz, and funk, is its simplicity in both conception and evolution. Blues men, and just as much the blues women, do not wish to present you with a complicated art. Their treasure in music is not within finding original ways to display what they've got to say. Though this may happen on its own, it is not the primary concern. Complication is an unneeded lettuce. Blues, through and through, is all about digging closer and closer in your own heart with the simplest spade you can find. It gives the notion that you can find progression and deeper meaning in your art just by meaning what you've got to say, really bad.

With most blues songs you've got a very simple verse syntax. The first line states, the second repeats, and the third elaborates in some way. And in order to really get it (which shouldn't be hard at all -- when you're ready), instead of listening for clever lines, or twitches in the chord progression, or hip hop whistles sounding off every beat, just listen to what the man had to say. What you're doing is growing two feet shorter, getting skinny and hungry, becoming black and poor and spit on, going down south, falling over train tracks, getting up and visiting your father in jail. You see him in there and he's skinnier. Skinnier 'n the bits of bacon and ham we used to get, worser than the worse days he'd just eaten bread with dust. Another tooth is missing. Get to wonderin', walking back to your house many miles away in the dark, after your father said nothing but cried at you and rubbed the top of your head, both your feet hurting,

i won'er why dey 'lectrocute a man at the one o'clock hour in night
and i won'er why dey 'lectrocute a man at the one o'clock hour O night!
b'cause the current is much stronger... den the folkses gone turned out all de lights

*

The words aren't about stress, aren't about some voice contest of screams and yawps, it's about getting it right. Getting it right with corn on your lips and singing because the reason in your gut is hungry for something.

So yeah, blues was about being oppressed. But it wasn't just about sadness- it was about companionship and heart-to-heart playing. It was about cheering at times. Blues was possibly the first time in free African American culture where their descriminations were used to uplift. A common view of the blacks back then were savage animals, horny and stupid. Blues changed the meaning of these words for blacks. Wild man blues, crazy sexy women from ghettos, the epitomy of life in a good gin and tonic. That was blues, that was theirs through slavery, theirs for centuries, and for their children.

The beat was important. Plenty of writeups already have gone on about it. But it's important to distinguish that blues could be a singer, or a band, and the difference was in whether the voice was by itself, or well backed up. Finding enough intruments to have a good band better than a hearfelt voice back in the day was rough stuff.

Many blues verses find themselves being traded around- this wasn't pegged as a copyright violation. You had your core verses, and around them deviated between singers and bands. Blues was an avenue of profit once records and bands become accepted, but all this hackneying was allowed because blues didn't forget the people; it never fully became of money (one of the few genres that didn't fall victim to big business). You couldn't peg down the first person to sing about being locked up or sent to work on the railroad after the Civil War anyway- the oppression was everywhere. When you sing about yourself in the blues, when you use a central verse or a lick and then go with it, you're singing your soul, and you're singing what's in others; souls too.

Ironically, the blues style was imitated by whites and became their entertainment, up until the 1900s, when whites began seeing slighter and slighter rises in their darker skin compadres, dropped the "nigger music" on them and targeted what they too enjoyed as devil's music. It wasn't until Mamie Smith recorded the very first blues record in 1920, "Crazy Blues," that blacks and whites slowly began to treasure the music their parents once showed them. And just after her wake, with the help of jazz becoming a more popular (but at the time less serious) style, nearly every blues band that could would record records.

* - Lyrics first recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

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