WHAT IS BLUES?

by Edward Liu
c) 1994, so don't even think about it, buddy

Three blues aint's:

Blues ain't just about being sad 
Blues ain't just a musical form (I-IV-V chords, pentatonic scales, blah blah blah) 
Blues ain't got a 3rd "ain't" 
Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf are blues. Big Bill Broonzy is blues. Robert Johnson,
Lonnie Johnson, and probably any other guitar-playing "Johnson" is blues. The same 
statement can be made of any black man playing guitar named "King" -- B.B. King,
Albert King, and Freddie King are all blues. Don King is not blues, but he doesn't play 
guitar, so the rule still holds. 

Eric Clapton *IS NOT* blues. Dammit. 

Buddy Guy is blues. Phil Guy is blues. Phil Collins is not blues. Albert Collins was 
blues. Fat Albert is not blues, but could be with a name like that. Big Mama Thornton
was blues. Li'l Ed Williams is blues, but Robin Williams is not blues. Charles Brown
is blues, but Charlie Brown and James Brown are not blues, which is why there is not a
"Brown" rule like the "Johnson" and "King" rules. Rufus Thomas is blues, but Dave 
Thomas is not blues. Anybody with an album on Arhoolie, Alligator, or Yazoo Records 
is blues. Some people with an album on Atlantic Records are blues, but they may not 
be getting royalties for it. 

Anybody using a stage name with any of the following keywords are blues: "Blind,
" "Magic," "Guitar," "Sonny," "Junior," "Little," "Big," "Screaming," "Lightning," or the 
name of a city. This makes "Detroit Junior" doubly-blues and "Luther 'Guitar Jr.' 
Johnson" triply-blues. Having the word "Blue" in your name doesn't necessarily make
you blues, although "Sugar Blue," "Bobby 'Blue' Bland," and B.B. King ("Blues Boy" 
if you didn't know) are three notable exceptions. People with animal nicknames, like 
Hound Dog Taylor and Howlin' Wolf, are usually blues, but the Animals and Animal 
of the Muppets are not blues (though Animal did jam once with Koko Taylor's Blues
Machine). Having "blue" in your album name or your song title does not make you blues,
period. 

Eric Clapton is blues sometimes. Some say he's blues, but that he's not very good at it. 

Stevie Ray Vaughan was blues. Sometimes he played rock and sometimes he played 
other stuff, but he was still blues. The same can be said of Duane Allman and Johnny
Winter, except Johnny Winter isn't dead yet. Gary Moore is not blues -- he plays blues
sometimes, he has played with 2 blues "King"s, and he has a song called "Still Got the
Blues For You," but he is not fundamentally blues. The same statement applies to Jimi
Hendrix, even if he does have an album called "Blues." 

The following people are not blues: Green Day, Madonna, REM, Whitney Houston, David
Lee Roth, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Garth Brooks, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Zubin 
Mehta, Julie Andrews, Michael Jordan, Vanilla Ice, Bill Clinton, Pat Boone, and Elvira. 
The last 5 are not even musicians, if you didn't know, although Bill Clinton will play the
saxophone every now and then. From the previous 2 paragraphs, we see that being black 
does not make you blues, and being white does not make you not blues. Tim Kaihatsu is
blues, proving that it's possible to be Asian and blues. 

Eric Clapton *IS* blues. Dammit. 

Any band marketed as "Alternative" is not blues. Any song that starts with the words, 
"Woke up this morning" is blues. Zydeco music isn't really "pure" blues, but it's a hell of a
lot of fun. If you listen carefully enough, Ella Fitzgerald and Mozart can be blues -- just 
not the way you think. Country singers are not blues, no matter how they sing about how 
their baby left them and even if their songs begin with "Woke up this morning." Elevator 
music is not blues. (Picture, if you dare, "Hoochie Coochie Man" with no vocals arranged for
flute and assorted strings. If you were silly enough to do this, run right out and listen to 
some Muddy Waters to negate the side-effects.) 

The Blues Brothers were not really blues, although one of them is promoting the blues very 
heavily these days. A harmonica player is generally a good sign of the blues, but that doesn't
explain Huey Lewis. Elvis, the Beatles, and Buddy Holly were not blues, but they learned 
and evolved from the blues. This applies to the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac as well, but
they're not in the past tense yet. 

Eric Clapton is blues if you want him to be. This statement can apply to just about any artist,
except for those listed in paragraph 8. 

Finally, BLUES-L is blues. Most of the time.

 

 

 



© lupomanaro 2008
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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