More thoughts on the blues

So my father-in-law, who is a big fan of the blues, apparently read my confused gibbering on the subject a few weeks ago and decided to help me out by getting me a nice introductory book. Thanks, Mike!

I’m enjoying it so far; I love reading about music, and the early bluesmen and -women were a colourful crew. The one fly in the ointment, as you can probably guess – and as I discovered while writing Seraphina – is that words can only approach music obliquely. I still needed to hear it for myself.

So I went to YouTube and poked around, starting with Robert Johnson and proceeding in a haphazard manner through Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leadbelly and I can’t even remember who. I can’t remember because none of it was sticking with me, alas. This is usually the case with me and new (to me) music: it slides right off my Teflon brain.

Then all of a sudden I hit one that made some kind of sense to me: Robert Petway’s Catfish Blues. Go listen. I’ll wait.

Now listen in close succession: Rolling Stone by Muddy Waters, which was supposedly inspired by Catfish Blues. I can hear it, but it’s subtle

OK, you’ve got those? Well then, ta-daa! The piece de resistance: Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. Don’t quite hear the lineage? Go back and listen to that Petway again.

Aha! I say. AHA! I have successfully connected dots in my brain.

So what was different in “Catfish Blues” that let me connect with it where I was having trouble with the earlier stuff? I have to say it was the livelier guitar line. (My husband was making fun of me just a little bit because I was like, “Oh, this one’s kind of jolly!”  There’s a reason it’s called The Blues, he claims, and I suppose he has a point.)

That said, my favourite of the Robert Johnson songs – “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” – had some pretty impressive guitar. Maybe that’s a way in. Tune in, uh, next time to find out!

One thought on “More thoughts on the blues

  1. Hi, Rachel,

    I missed your earlier post on this… beyond the pentatonic scale per se, the “blue note” phenom is, I think, more important to the overall sound. Or at least, it’s not the pentatonic that makes the blues, but the harmonic combinations that get used. Listen especially for minor-sounding melodies over major-key progressions, or which mutate back and forth between minor and major tonality. See Wikipedia on this:

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