Just what is “blues music”? That’s a tough question to answer as the blues, like most all genres, has expanded much beyond its simple origins. Blues music has morphed into so many styles over the years that it’s hard to keep track: Country blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues, Delta blues, Hill country blues, rhythm and blues, juke joint, and blues rock are examples of how many branches can form from one basic root (or genre) of music. Artists as far ranging as Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Gary Clark Jr., The Black Keys, and Jack White have fallen under the blues umbrella but none of them sound like the other. That said, each does seem to share similar traits as part of the blues lineage.
So how do you define it? Is it as simple as the great blues man Lightnin’ Hopkins states in the title of one of his songs, that “blues is a feeling”? Or do we go with the textbook definition lifted directly from Wikipedia’s pages that states “Blues is a genre and musical form that originated in African-American communities in the ‘Deep South’ of the United States around the end of the 19th century.” Or maybe we just stick with what guitarist Robben Ford tells author Debra Devi in a 2013 Huffington Post article: “The blues is a big house.” As Devi goes on to say, “fine music continues to be birthed under its roof, supported by what is proving to be one of the strongest, most flexible, inspiring musical frameworks ever created.”
Frankly, the blues is all of these things and more and depends on the listener. Music in general invokes feelings within us all and blues music taps deep into that well whether it be from early a capella “call and response” field songs by African American slaves to uptempo harmonica driven cuts from Junior Wells or James Cotton to psychedelic, guitar driven rave ups from Jimi Hendrix. While those artists may have been driven by emotional loss, deep sorrow, or jubilation, those of us listening to blues music have similar shared experiences and can relate.
Blues music is not just singing about hard times or being down on your luck, nor is it driven solely by a cheatin’ woman (or man) or those “stormy Mondays”. Blues music is about the ups too: celebration of life, love, spirituality, and getting your “mojo working”. So whether you are listening to older artists such as Charley Patton or to newer guns such as Joe Bonamassa, just remember: It IS a feeling and it CAN soothe your soul. It’s just all in your interpretation.