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UB bulls

The Blues was born in the Mississippi Delta. It emphasized the guitar and harmonica instead of trumpets and a banjo that New Orleans Jazz had popularized.

It is a deceptively simple musical structure. Only six notes in a scale (a 'normal' scale has seven notes) and usually just three chords (the first, fourth and fifth chords in the key, for those keeping score). But from that simple formula comes a huge amount of popular music from the past 50 years. Everything from Chuck Berry to Elvis's Don't Be Cruel to the Monkees to Led Zeppelin are just variations on the style pioneered by sons of sharecroppers from Mississippi.

Robert Johnson is the guy who was said to have sold his soul to the devil to learn how to play guitar.

The Rolling Stones started out as a blues cover band. The story goes that when they were booking their first gig, the bar owner was on the phone and asked Brian Jones what their band was called. Jones saw this song title on the back of an album lying on the apartment floor.

The harmonica is an integral part of many blues songs. Sonny Boy Williamson was one of the best.

After WW II, many blues players moved to northern cities, especially Chicago. Chicago Blues is usually electric and often adds a horn section. There are still bars in Chicago where you can hear live blues, such as Blue Chicago (bluechicago dot com) on La Salle Drive on the north side.

Otis Rush is one of my favorites of the Chicago style.

Another classic Chicago blues player. This guy died way too young but the two albums he made are both fantastic.

I'll admit that Howlin Wolf's voice is an acquired taste.

One of my proudest moments as a father was when this song came on the car stereo and my daughter turned it up.

T-bone Walker used to play his guitar behind his back or with his teeth. Some guy named Hendrix thought that looked pretty cool.

Those metal bars on the neck of a guitar are frets. Pressing the string down against a fret makes a specific note. You are changing the length of the vibrating string, which changes its tone. But if you don't press the strings against the fret and instead change the length by holding something on the strings themselves, you can get one note to 'slide' into another note.

When Duane Allman is the one holding the slide, you get this (the song starts at 0:54):

And finally there is Stevie Ray Vaughan. The thing that sets him apart from guys like Clapton in my mind is that he could play rhythm as well as lead, and his leads could go effortlessly from blistering to mournful and back again. IMO, he outplays Albert King here.

August 6, 2011  02:13 AM ET

Very nice!

August 6, 2011  04:20 AM ET

Glad you liked it

Comment #3 has been removed
August 6, 2011  01:39 PM ET

I love the Blues. Leadbelly is my favorite Blues artist.

August 6, 2011  01:48 PM ET

I enjoyed each and every one of these songs. This was great!

August 6, 2011  03:51 PM ET

I clicked because I thought it was a St. Louis hockey article. Ptooey.

August 6, 2011  03:54 PM ET


August 7, 2011  01:15 AM ET


August 7, 2011  03:25 AM ET

Very well done.

August 7, 2011  06:12 PM ET

UB- grew up on the sout'side with the blues - thanks for a great look at the genre

August 7, 2011  07:50 PM ET

Very nice overview of the music. BTW Johnson could already play he sold his soul for fame.

August 8, 2011  12:50 PM ET

BTW Johnson could already play he sold his soul for fame.

Good catch. I think the bargain was that he could master the blues style and become famous.

August 8, 2011  12:51 PM ET

UB- grew up on the sout'side with the blues - thanks for a great look at the genre

You a White Sox fan too then?

Talk about selling your soul to the devil :)

January 19, 2012  08:11 AM ET

Great blog, remember when Stevie & Jimmy used to play Antones in Austin all of the time, great times. Jimmy's tribute Guitar Slinger Down still brings tears to my eyes, the best was still to come

January 19, 2012  08:13 AM ET

I also remember when Stevie brought Lonnie Mack back from semi-retirement for Double Whammy, the two together was just priceless


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