The Evolution of Different Blues Styles

A lot of folks tend to lump all types of blues in a super genre called “the blues.” However, there are quite a few distinct styles of blues that can almost be put into a different genre all-together. Quite a few more well known genres of music fall closer to the blues than one might think. I’ll go over several different styles of blues and illustrate how they eventually evolved into the common genre’s of jazz, rock and country.

Early Blues: Urban Blues, Delta Blues and Country Blues

The entire modern genre of blues sprung forth from the traditions of early African American slaves. In the early 1900′s they began to play and sign what could easily be recognized as the precursor to modern blues. Their blues were derived from and based on “field hollers” or traditional work songs found in African American slave communities in the south. This makes the blues one of the few uniquely American genres of music. Obviously based on African heritage, the genre rose to prominence as an accessible form of self-expression in the African American community.

Some examples of early bluesmen and women are:

  • Robert Johnson
  • Ma Rainy
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Blind Willie McTell
  • Bessie Smith
  • Leadbelly
  • and on and on…

To help you develop an ear for early blues and how it influenced the modern version of blues, I’ve included a few demos of early blues.

Black Snake Moan #1 by Blind Lemon Jefferson – Country Blues

Statesboro Blues by Blind Willie McTell – Urban Blues

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Leadbelly – Country/Folk Blues

Downhearted Blues by Bessie Smith – Urban Blues

Bid Band Blues

In the 1920′s and 1930′s there was a sudden interest in dance bands and big bands that based many of their musical styles after some of the basic chordal movements of earlier bluesmen and women. A few of the more famous names associated with this era are Count Basie, Bennie Moten, and Duke Ellington.

Although not strictly blues in a the popular sense, big band blues and jazz are heavely based on early blues styles. The early styles of jazz in New Orleans developed alongside early blues. Many concepts and ideas flowed freely between jazz and blues before jazz went its own direction while blues did the same.

A few famous big bands and conductors:

  • Duke Ellington
  • Count Basie
  • Tommy Dorsey
  • Benny Goodman
  • Glenn Miller

Here is an example of common big band music in the 20′s and 30′s:

Black And Tan Fantasy by Duke Ellington

Electric Blues and Rock

In the 50s and 60s there began a huge shift in blues. The modern sound was being born and al the famous modern blues guitarists appeared on the scene. B.B. King released his first album in this time frame, as did Eric Clapton as part of John Mayall and the Blues Breakers.

Many of the famous rock bands began their careers in the 60s and were extremely influenced by these early electric blues players. Cream, Led Zeppellin and Jimi Hendrix all were known to cover numerous blues standards.

A few of the early electric blues figures:

  • Buddy Guy
  • Elmore James
  • Jimmy Reed
  • Muddy Waters
  • Howlin’ Wolf
  • Bo Diddly

Unfortunately, due to the copyrighted nature of material recorded from the 50s and afterwards, I can’t bring you much in the way of samples. I am sure if you check around the internet you can find some samples. Better yet, go buy a few albums and listen for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

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