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Ch. 09: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect


The backlash to the blues rock sound of the ‘60s was the highly produced pop sound of rock in the ‘70s. But the wave of respectability had already arrived. The blues were now considered a part of mainstream America. In 1969, the year of rock’s Woodstock and Altamont, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival was established outside Detroit. Within the next few years, annual blues festivals in San Francisco, Memphis, New Orleans, Kansas City and St. Louis were also established. The Chicago Blues Festival, established in the early ‘70s, had over 700,000 in attendance in 1990. Annual blues festivals were also established in France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Norway and Canada.

Buddy Guy, 1993

In the past 30 years, blues books, magazines, and radio stations have been established to promote the works of past and present artists. Living legends like John Lee Hooker were joined by a newer breed of artists. Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy and The Fabulous Thunderbirds were some of the artists presented a version of urban blues in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

But perhaps no single artist linked the delta juke joints with VH1 like B.B. King. He performed before more live audiences and recorded more sessions than any other blues artist in history. The impact of his unique style of guitar playing extends beyond blues into jazz, rock and even country music. He played for kings, queens and presidents. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, appeared in television sitcoms and commercials, and for nearly fifty years, he was the face that most of America identified with the style of music known as the blues.

B. B. King

He was born Riley B. King in (where else) rural Mississippi and first learned to sing and play guitar in church. In his teen years he listened to jazz guitarists Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian and blues guitarists Elmore James and T-Bone Walker. Robert Lockwood, stepson of Robert Johnson, taught him early in his career, but a move to Memphis was the first big step in his legendary career.

During the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, King had a job as combination dj and guitar-player on the first black-owned radio station in the South, WDIA. Billing himself on the air as the “Beale Street Blues Boy,” he shortened it to “Blues Boy” and finally, just B.B. King. His rich, gospel blues voice, separated by solo licks on Lucille, his guitar were his trademark sound since the late fifties.

Up until 1966 King was satisfied to make a career traveling by bus from one-night stand to one-night stand. It was certainly better than being a sharecropper in Mississippi, and he had steady work, something that eluded many of the blues artists from the south.

But at the age of 45, B.B. King was hailed by then 25 year old rock guitarist Eric Clapton as “the master” of blues guitar. Immediately King was in demand at first class venues such as Fillmore West in San Francisco and the Monterey Jazz Festival. He was booked on first class tours of Europe and given exposure on American television. By the end of the sixties, B.B. King had 27 blues recordings at various times on the Billboard charts and his signature song, “The Thrill is Gone” was on the pop charts in America.

The ‘70s were a decade in which the blues became mainstreamed in America, and by the ‘80s B.B. King was established as a formidable artist. By this time, his image, voice and unique sound had ushered in an elevated respectability for the blues among both white and black audiences in America. Rather than being embarrassed by the blues, as the middle class African-Americans in the ‘50s had been, middle class African-Americans in the ‘70s embraced the blues as part of their cultural roots in America. Perhaps the elevated awareness brought by films and television mini-series like “Roots” by Alex Haley had made the celebration of heritage in the black community possible.

Traveling with a twelve piece band, King continued to craft a blues sound that was a seamless weaving of voice and guitar backed by brass, drums, electric bass and rhythm guitar, synthesizer and organ.

Similar to Louis Armstrong in jazz, B.B. King became more than just a legend in his field; he became an American ambassador of music and a humanitarian. His generosity in giving scholarships and encouragement to aspiring young musicians has been well noted.

Until his passing in 2016, B. B. King remained one of the most influential living musicians in America. Amazingly, he was able to fuse the gritty sound of the delta dive with a polished funk blues and made it enjoyable for a 21st century audience. Although his songs fit the typical blues pattern of love and loss, he resisted the urge to build his career on song lyrics filled with sexual double meanings.

In doing so, he remained the image of “personal class without artistic compromise” for the blues.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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