Blues in the 1960s and 1970s

Submitted by AWL on 24 April, 2008 - 8:39 Author: Peter Burton

Continuing a series on the history of the blues

By the beginning of the 1960s, genres influenced by African American music such as rock and roll and soul were part of mainstream popular music. White performers had brought African-American music to new audiences, both within the US and abroad. In the UK, bands emulated US blues legends, and UK blues-rock-based bands had an influential role throughout the 1960s.

Blues performers such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters continued to perform to enthusiastic audiences, inspiring new artists steeped in traditional blues, such as New York-born Taj Mahal.

John Lee Hooker blended his blues style with rock elements and playing with younger white musicians, creating a musical style that can be heard on the 1971 album Endless Boogie. BB King’s virtuoso guitar technique earned him the eponymous title “king of the blues”. In contrast to the Chicago style, King’s band used strong brass support from a saxophone, trumpet, and trombone, instead of using slide guitar or harp. Tennessee-born Bobby “Blue” Bland, like B.B. King, also straddled the blues and R&B genres.

During this period, Freddie King and Albert King often played with rock and soul musicians (Eric Clapton, Booker T & the MGs) and had a major influence on those styles of music that has carried through to the present.

The music of the civil rights and free speech movements in the US prompted a resurgence of interest in American roots music and early African American music. As well as traditional venues, music festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival brought traditional blues to a new audience, which helped to revive interest in pre-war acoustic blues and performers such as Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and the Reverend Gary Davis. (Skip James at Newport in 1963 blew a white middle class audience away with his guitar playing, having not played or recorded for 30 years )

These artists began to tour again after many decades of not playing, bringing blues to a new wealthier generation of young people . Muddy Waters had been playing electric blues as part of the American Blues Music tours in Europe from 1958 onwards. Dylans’ 1963 and 1964 Newport performances had made him popular with the Newport crowd, but on July 25, 1965 Dylan was booed by some fans when he played alongside an electric blues/rock and roll band while headlining the festival. (The backing players were from the Chicago based and influential Paul Buttersfield Blues band — most notably Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar.)

It is usually said that the reason for the crowd’s hostile reception was Dylan’s “abandoning” of the folk orthodoxy, or poor sound quality on the night (or a combination of the two).

This incident, Dylan’s first live “plugged-in” set of his professional career, marked the shift in his artistic direction from folk to rock, and had wider implications for both styles of music. He added his authority to what the electric bluesmen were already doing, bringing the unofficial and artificial separate acoustic folk and electric blues culture to an end — much to the annoyance of many Stalinist purist folkies (for a detailed history of the CPGB Stalinists’ mindset about Folk Music see C P Lee: “Bob Dylan and the road to the Manchester Free trade Hall”).

Ewan McColl, in spite of his radical radio shows and contribution to political song, was one of the purists who insisted on artists singing in their own national tongue.

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