The Rolling Stones took their name and much of their attitude from Muddy Waters. John Lennon considered Chuck Berry the world’s greatest songwriter. Led Zeppelin hijacked numerous rifts and songs from Willie Dixon. John Lee Hooker invented boogie and thus begat The Yardbirds and The Animals. Yet, today you rarely hear from any of these patriarchs of a truly unique American art form.
It’s a bit of a shame that the core root elements of rock and roll are being lost in a world that thinks “Sweet Home Chicago” is the defining anthem of the blues. Popular rock stars have tried to resurrect careers most notable Eric Clapton and Todd Mohr. Mohr, the Coloradan who heads up Big Head Todd, has been working for the past few years on a Robert Johnson tribute while Clapton has certainly raised tons of songwriting royalties if not fame for dozens of blues artists he has covered through the years. Still few fans bother to explore the music that is as American as apple pie-The Blues.
Born in the sharecropping hills of the Mississippi Delta and commercialized, to a certain degree, in Chicago with the helping hands of the Chess Brothers and their namesake record label, the blues has pockets of support around the country but little of note in Colorado. There is the fledging Colorado Blues Society that is dedicated to “increasing awareness and appreciation for the Blues as an indigenous American art form.” They help promote and curate numerous blues festivals around the state as well as run a “Blues in The Schools” educational program. Yet it remains an uphill battle.
Like the British rock stars before them many festivals coopt the name blues manly because it sounds so good next to the word Barbeque. True blues fests are rare and poorly attended. And Radio is as guilty as anyone in this regard. Music stations virtually ignore this genre and pay fleeting lip service to the kings of the art form.
Much of today’s rap music borrows generously from mid seventies rock classics much the way those 1970s rock classics mimic the blue’s legends. Put Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” on your stereo and then immediately listen to Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” and you’ll understand why Dixon won a court battle but lost the war. The history books are full of struggling blues artists leading an endless life of travel and performances yet live lives of squalor much like the heartaches they sing about. In spite of Herculean efforts to get these innovators recognized like John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers movies and tour, the blues continue to have the blues when it comes to the green.
Casual fans of music remain clueless about the originals. They must think Clapton wrote all those great songs. Muddy Water’s once accepted his fate in a song, “The Blues Had A Baby.” In it he name checks the greats as a history lesson to us all. Otis Redding, James Brown, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker are shouted out like the Mount Rushmore of music. They are a pretty good starting point for anyone looking to expand their musical horizons. And yes I know it’s true I personally tend to promote new music; it sometimes can be most rewarding to venture back to where it all began. You see the blues named that baby rock and roll and well sometimes it’s nice to say thanks and listen to your parents.