by Justin Abell
Blues player Robert Johnson
Blues music is a way of venting one’s frustrations or feelings on the bad events that have taken place in one’s life. It could be about mis-communications in a relationship or the sorrow a homeless man feels as he walks down a cold and lonely street. Blues can also be about looking at life with gratitude and being happy with what one has. It can be about putting the bad things in the past and having a night of fun or about digging deeper and deeper into those bad things. These emotions are conveyed through two main styles of blues music: country blues and city blues.
Country blues began in the rural South known as the Mississippi Delta (Awmiller 26). This style began around the same time as the slaves’ work songs (Ferber 1). Country blues has a “rough, hard edged, and raw” sound and is usually played on standard instruments rather than electric ones (Awmiller 26). The emotions given off from country blues are primarily sad and lonely ones. The emotions are like that of a man sitting alone in a dark, smoke filled bar searching through all his sorrows for some form of happiness. Country blues was very informal and often made up on the spot. This style has twelve measures of three equal phrases. It relies on only a few harmonies per verse and has no rhythmic restrictions (Ferber 1). All styles on music seem to have roots in this rugged, rural style of blues (Ferber 1).
City blues is a modified version of country blues. When blacks came from the rural South and moved to the large northern cities in the early twentieth century they brought their music with them. Chicago, Illinois played such a huge part in the development of city blues that sometimes the style itself is referred to as Chicago blues. This style of music was one of the central elements of urban African American culture (Awmiller 27). The emotions given off by city blues differ from those of country blues. Sad and lonely feelings are still a part of it, but there are also feelings of joy and gratitude. The feelings are like that of a person who has many sorrows, but decides to forget about them and have some fun. City blues was more organized than country blues and usually accompanied by more instruments. The rhythm was controlled by a twelve bar structure and the lyrics were sophisticated and mature (Ferber 1).
“Country blues and city blues influenced each other in hundreds of ways.” (Awmiller 27) Both styles are original and seem to give a message in every song. Although the emotions conveyed differ, a message is still left with the listener. Whether it’s a message to someone in a troubled relationship or a message to the whole human race, blues music seems to touch everybody in some way.
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