What are Blues Standards?
Blues Standards are blues songs from different sub-genres and eras, that were preformed and recorded many times by different artists, to which each one gave a slightly or a total different variation. The different variations and popularity of the artist gave the Blues Standards a high level of recognition.
In order to fully understand the essence of the Blues Standards and how they managed to make Blues one of the most popular music styles – even outside the African-American community, we must first understand the history of the Blues.
Blues is a musical genre that have originated in the Deep South of the United States in the middle-to-late 19th century. Its origins were created by African-Americans and was affected profoundly by their history and culture: From traditional African music, to spiritual music and even work songs that came to life during the cruel age of slavery.
The genre of Blues is often recognizable by its simple yet deep lyrics, describing a narrative of a story often related to the harsh life of the African-Americans during that period. The simple lyrical structure (at earlier times the same line was sang four straight times, and later evolved into the familiar AAB structure (or 12 bars) – two lines followed by a different one) helped blues gain popularity inside the African-American Community during the early 1900’s.
Here is an example for a 12 bar song: “Sweet Home Chicago” by Robert Johnson (1936).
During those times, Blues have evolved into different types of subgenres like the more south-oriented Country or Delta Blues, and urban styles such as the Chicago Blues. The genre mainly gained popularity from travelling musicians due to the available technology and racism.
The Transition of Blues from features like acoustic instruments and relying mainly on vocals, to a more Electric oriented instruments made the Blues popular within other non-African-American audiences.
During the 1950’s the arrival of musicians such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B King and Chuck Berry, created a cultural bridge that influenced popular artists such as Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the 1960’s- which made Blues and its genres popular.
Blue’s quick rise to popularity created a gap between the origins of the genre and the now popular and electric Blues- that sent different musicians on a musical quest to research the earlier types of Blues. That search influenced artist who dared venture into earlier times to preform those powerful and spiritual songs- using modern technology and techniques.
And thus the BLUES STANDARDS were born.
The Blues Standards
“Crossroad” by Robert Johnson (1936).
There’s a good reason that if you ask a Blues expert to play you the essentials of the Blues, they would start with the King of the Delta Blues – Robert Johnson. Many of the greatest Blues artists of all time has been inspired by the man which of the legend says- gave his soul to the devil in order to play how he played.
One of those inspired by Rober Johnson is Eric Clapton and ‘Cream’ who coverd this masterpiece in 1966. In my opinion this cover by Cream is one of the finest examples of the cultural and technological gap I discussed earlier. I wonder what would happen if Robert Johnson would hear this song..
“Dust My Broom” By Robert Johnson (1936).
Again, King of the Delta Blues have created some of the greatest songs of all time.
Among those who rose to prominance in the 1950’s is Elmore James who coverd the classic in 1951.
You can clearly hear the elctric sound made possible with new technology- alongside tools that had deep roots even in Robert Johnson’s days- the Slide Guitar.
Elmore James himself have inspired later artists to cover his own songs, like one of my personal favorites of all time- “The Sky Is Crying” (1959).
Although the original song gained popularity by itself, Stevie-Ray Vaughn’s cover (1984) resurrected the song and gave it a rougher, Texas-Blues variation- which made it extremely popular to this day.
This song is a perfect example of a Blues Standard, because even the “second generation” of the song got its own cover, in Gary B.B. Coleman’s version (1992). This song sounds like a whole new thing- it has a quieter, more touching sound.
Sometimes, a cover of an earlier song has gained so much popularity, that people believe it to be the original.
“The Thrill Is Gone” by Roy Hawkins (1951) was quite popular in the 1950’s:
But B.B. King’s version (1969) is still considered to this day one of the greatest songs of all time- and not only in the Blues genre. It is probably one of King’s best songs, and by far the most popular one.
A song that originated out of a quieter Jazzier type of Blues, has become one of the most recognizable sounds of arguably the greatest Blues artist the world has ever seen.
In sum, Blues Standards are extremely important for the fact they developed and improved the genre, and helped it gain popularity, And that popularity of the Blues has originated many different types of music: from Rock, Soul and Funk, to Hip-Hop and Rap
In conclusion, in my eyes Blues Standards are essentially bridges. They are bridges that span across decades of musical history and connect different cultures, technologies and emotion. A broken hearted man or a woman would have the same pain fifty, sixty, seventy or a hundred years later- they just have better technology to express it to younger listeners.
Thank you for reading this far, and here are a few more examples of Blues Standards for your enjoyment!
“Born Under A Bad Sign” by Albert King (1967).
This classic was coverd only a year later by Eric Clapton and Cream (1968).
“Catfish Blues” by Robert Petway (1941).
was coverd by Jimi Hendrix (1967), who gave it his signature rich, psychedelic, sound, together with long and wild solos.
and again by Gary Clark Jr. (2012) which sounds more simillar to Hendrix’s version.
Thank’s for reading!
Published: Dec 24, 2020
Latest Revision: Dec 24, 2020
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