Whether you’re in a bar, at a campsite, or by the beach, chances are if there is an acoustic guitar nearby, a bit of country blues is going to get strummed into the atmosphere.
What Is Country Blues Music?
- Country blues music is a type of American roots music that originated in the rural southern United States;
- It is a sub-genre of traditional blues and incorporates elements from folk, country, and popular styles;
- Country blues artists began recording songs until 1920 and continued to do so until about 1950;
- The genre was closely associated with the Mississippi Delta region through most of its history, but spread throughout the South during the Great Migration;
- Country blues evolved out of earlier African American genres such as field hollers, work songs, shouts, and chants with some influence from European styles such as balladry.
History of Country Blues
Country blues is distinct from other forms of blues because it features a distinct guitar and vocal style, as well as more complex song structures than its predecessors, Delta Blues and jug band music.
The genre also tends to feature more improvisation than other genres of country music, but less so than jam bands such as the Grateful Dead or Phish.
Characteristics of Country Blues Music
The characteristics of country blues music include:
- The melody and rhythm are often simple, repetitive, and cyclical;
- The instrumentation is limited to a few instruments, such as a guitar, harmonica, or washboard;
- The vocal style ranges from singing to speaking, with an intense emotional quality that is often dramatic and expressive. Vocals are usually accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano, but no drums or electric instruments are used;
- Lyrics focus on the singer’s personal experiences of life in the South at this time – especially poverty, racism, and oppression – as well as love for family members who have been separated for various reasons (e.g., migration northward).
Lyrics and Themes
Unlike other styles of blues, which tend to focus on themes of anger or violence, country blues tends towards melancholy; it is more about sorrow than aggression.
- Artists perform solo, or with a small ensemble;
- They use a wide variety of instruments, like the guitar and harmonica;
- Performers regularly use their hands and feet to create rhythmic percussion sounds.
The Artists of Country Blues
Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Son House are among the most famous artists in country blues music. Although they were all born in Mississippi or Alabama, they were not part of the same scene. Each had their own unique sound and style that helped define the genre as we know it today.
The musical influences of these icons varied greatly. For example, Charley Patton was heavily influenced by African folk songs, while Blind Lemon Jefferson incorporated Christian hymns into his music, which can be heard in songs like “I Got Mine”.The musical instruments used by these artists also differed slightly depending on where they came from.
For example, Charley Patton played the guitar while Robert Johnson used a resonator guitar. This allowed him to play slide guitar more easily because he didn’t have to fret individual notes with his fingers while playing chords and single notes.
Most of those who did not achieve the level of success that Delta Blues did. This makes these songs and artists even more fascinating to the seasoned music fan.