Can blue men sing the whites?

I’ve been watching that “The Blues” PBS series and have begun to wonder about the future of the blues. The art form seems to have two main groups of fans, neither of which has a longterm future: old black folk and middle-aged or older white folk. Even the young, up-and-coming black artists on the show, like Keb Mo (born 1951) and Chuck D (born 1960), are middleaged.

Is the blues a dying art form? Is it turning into the equivalent of my parent’s generation’s big band music, funky and danceable but something only grandma and grandpa listen to?

Perhaps it will survive by being punked up and set on fire a bit by artists like the White Stripes and the Black Keys.

Nah. They’re hippo-crites for singing WOOO.

dropzone, I’m glad you started this thread because I’ve been wrestling the past few hours with the same basic idea. I have been watching the series, too, and have had a variety of reactions to it. I agree with your observation, to start with.

Last night’s episode about Rap and Chess and the reviving of a 60’s band to do a fusion of Rap and Blues along the lines of Electric Mud made me wonder just what boundaries or limits can legitimately be placed on The Blues as a meaningful description of a specific type of music.

As early as my teenage years I thought I had an idea of what “the blues” referred to, both as a mood and also as a kind of music. I even heard some blues that early and liked some of what I heard, while rejecting a large part of it as nothing much more than noise. I guess the blues players/singers I had a strong affinity for back then were Jimmy Reed and Leadbelly.

Somewhere along the way the various offshoot genres got me confused to the point that if there is still a “pure blues” act I don’t know what it would be. And then it would have to occupy some subgenre, wouldn’t it?

Just where do “the blues” stop and such things as R&B, Rock, Rap, Country, Gospel, Jazz, Folk, whatever start?

To deny that “the blues” have influenced essentially all of the American musical forms would be silly. As far back as the latter decades of the 19th century, ragtime and jazz were borrowing ideas and techniques from what has been labelled by some as “primitive” or “country” blues. Then as blues moved out of the Delta upriver to St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, and eventually over to New York and the eastern USA, the variations and extensions helped to blur the disctinctions still further.

You had the likes of Gershwin and other Tin Pan Alley composers merging Blues with European music (often with a heavy Jewish flavor) to produce the Great American Songbook that jazz and pop took over for several decades, only to have Rock replace with a different offshoot of “the blues.”

To point to one particular player/singer as being a “pure blues” performer would most likely reveal one’s penchant for one particular sound or style and would do little to convey much meaning to someone else whose version of what “the blues” means involved another sound. There’s just too much latitude in the terminology, or too little, to be precise and meaningful.

In my younger years I worked in a record shop, and our categorization scheme was pretty simple, especially so in light of today’s categories. We had Classical, Jazz, Folk, Pop, Children’s, Spoken Word, and maybe a few other slots like Country, Rock, Novelty, Opera, and maybe four or five others. But I believe we had whatever would have passed for “Blues” music along with other Folk music. Maybe Pop. Rarely Jazz.

Within the next 10-20 years from then, I’ve heard of at least 50 genres and subgenres, and have begun to feel very out of touch with what those labels even mean. For instance, can anybody draw a good distinction between “Rhythm & Blues” and “Rock & Roll”? Is that as simple as Black and White versions of the same basic sound, or is there more to it than that?

And with the attempt to identify the various component styles of “Latin” and “World” music, this whole genre thing has become way more complex than helpful – at least for me.

As to the points you raise in the OP, I suspect the future for Blues, Jazz, Old-time Country, Bluegrass, and any other “bag” will be a blend of those few performers who manage somehow to keep the ingredients of the “pure style” (however that may be defined) alive, and a much larger group who find ways to blend various styles (old and new) with the basic Blues to come up with even more fragmentary genres. At least we’ll find some new labels for what some new act is doing.

But as the last of the old-timers die off, only their recordings will bear testimony to what the style was like 50-100 years ago. Thankfully, more and more of those recordings now exist than they did when I was a kid. And documentaries like the series on PBS will be available for the ones really interested in the old music. At least I hope that trend continues.

All in all, I rate this Blues series a much better effort than the Ken Burns thing on Jazz. I mean to tell our local station that very thing, since they’ve posted a phone number for that purpose. They do seem to be trying to put some things on Public TV to make it worth watching again. It hasn’t been that way except at fundraiser time for years. But since the state/city started leaving the funding to the viewers, things have gotten better. This series is the best so far in that category.

When Smurfs sing, people turn white in terror, so I guess the answer is…Yes?

Haven’t been watching the Blues–heck, I still haven’t finished Ken Burns’ Jazz yet.

Question: Can blue men sing the whites?

Answer: The Smurfs can sing whatever the Smurf they want.

Damn! ArchiveGuy beat me to it!

(Thanks, Biffy. I swear, sometimes it seems for anybody here to pick up on something it has to be a Monty Python reference. Not as if the Bonzos weren’t their musical wing…)

So what you are saying, Zeldar, is that I actually AM turning into an old fart? Just checking. :slight_smile:

No, that’s really not what I’m saying, but if it makes you feel better to turn into an old fart, who am I to stand in your way?

When I said I agreed with your observation, it was the one about how the audience for “pure blues” (whatever that could be – and that was my main point) seems to be older blacks and middle aged whites.

Having said that, I do acknowledge that my granddaughter is a big fan of Jonny Lang and her stepdad (my son-in-law) is trying hard to emulate Stevie Ray Vaughan by taking guitar lessons to help get a grip on blues soloing.

To whatever degree people younger than, say, 40 are still into Clapton, Jeff Beck, the Stones, BB King, Eric Johnson, and the many others whose style has a definite blues feel, I’d say that the blues of the “old guys” (the ones spotlighted in the PBS series anyway) can’t be a total loss. It’s just that I suspect the old time music is maybe a bit too “primitive” for them to make buying those recordings a priority. I could be wrong. It has happened.

Why in the hell did PBS decide to premiere the series during MLB playoffs? Now I’ll have to catch it in repeats during a fund driver

When is MCA going to release “The Howlin’ Wolf Album” aka “This is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album. He doesn’t Like It…” (aka the Birdshit/Dogshit album) on CD? It’s better than Electric Mud and made it onto the series. I say screw the purists, release it already.

On the general topic of music genres, which might be better in a separate thread if it doesn’t get much action here, how does this list strike you?

I doubt grandma and grandpa would be listening to Brian Setzer. Maybe Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, though.

Jeff, my mom (nearly 80) could enjoy Setzer–she always was cooler than my dad. She dated a boogie-woogie pianist before she met dad.

::Looks at thread title::

Leon Russell tried to ask this question much earlier in 1970 when he wanted to call his debut solo album Can A Blue Man Sing The Whites? But it would up being self-titled.

Nothing really to contribute to this thread at this time, just wanted to throw that useless info out there.

Just wanted to point out Big Band isn’t exactly dying off.

They just didn’t choose younger artists. Chris Thomas King of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Is a blues musician, he’s 40. Alvin Youngblood Hart is 39. Susan Tedeschi is 32.

Please. For the foreseeable future, at least, there will be kids who grow up idolizing Stevie Ray Vaughan - like Kenny Wayne Sheppard (26), Jonny Lang (22), etc. I could include Derek Trucks (24) as well. His influences are more diverse, but there’s no question the blues is in there. Shannon Curfman is 19. There are a handful of early-teen phenoms I’m thinking of who also do blues guitar stuff whose names I can’t remember. “Grandma and Grandpa” are actually Mom and Pop, and they’re passing their interest in the music to their kids. Look at the audience at a BB King show, or any of the more vaunted blues-rock groups of the '60s and '70s who are still going. A lot of white parents taking their young kids. That’ll keep it going for a long time.

Well, it’s nice seeing some (some :frowning: ) black kids getting into it being that it’s their heritage and all.

Speaking of my kids’ heritage (it’s what their parents are into—that makes it THEIR heritage, right? Isn’t that how heritage works? :wink: ), it was nice to see the British blues guys doing their thing tonight. I tuned in late so I missed some of the identifications and had to go back to the tape for them. Others were like old friends and I recognized them right off–Clapton and Mayall, for instance. I was pleased to see how many had gotten old, fat, and ugly. (Try getting groupies looking like THAT, Van Morrison!) Happy to see Peter Green is still alive and Mick Fleetwood is looking younger than he has in years, though that was no surprise since I saw him on the cover of a magazine a couple months ago. One guy I didn’t see well and didn’t recognize until he started to play. “Oh, is that Beck?” (Jeff Beck, of course.) Wife woke up enough to chide me with a “Who else plays like that?”

Zeldar, that is an impressive collection of styles. While I love them all my current faves are (obviously) the British stuff (Humble Pie Live is on as I type) and the old acoustic stuff (cuz I’m an old fart who gets to grumbling about new-fangled stuff like electricity).

Give a listen to the great Dubs’ lead singer Richard Blandon(black) sing the SKyliners’ “This I Swear is True.” Almost as good as Jimmy Beaumont-who initially I thought was black.

zeldar-IMO R&B is part of rock & roll. I have heard some say r&roll is to dance to, & R&B is not. I don’t buy it- you can’t dance to Isley Bros “Shout” or 5 Satins “In the Still of the NIte?”

My pink half of the drainpipe … semi detachable …

My pink half of the drainpipe … oh, mama … belongs to meeeeee!

I’ve a sister in Toronto who’s a nurse
I’ve had a bit of bother laying turf
It’s life, not lessons, that’s taught me all I’ve learned
Oops, in the oven my rice pudding’s getting burned
Here, 'ave you seen the new attachment on me drill?
I must have the cat put down 'cause he’s ill …

My pink half of the drainpipe …

I may paint it blue …

My pink half of the drainpipe …

Keeps me safe from you …