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Just living long enough if you can carry a tune you will be able to sing the blues. Because the world is going to provide you with a blues to sing - Josh White Jr, Frets magazine

Author Topic: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.  (Read 1339 times)

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Offline davet

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Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« on: February 14, 2017, 03:28:52 AM »
Greetings fellow Weenies

I am doing a course on the history of the blues at the moment. I wanted to find a definition of Country Blues if such a thing actually exists. I thought this was a good place to start due to all of the very learned and wise folks on the site. I have had a look round but could not find anything so I decided I would try a post.

Best Wishes

davet


Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2017, 06:23:48 AM »
A very good question. I doubt if anyone can produce a satisfactory answer, but if they can, this is the place you'll find it!


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Offline Rivers

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2017, 07:42:01 AM »
I suppose you could visualize a series of concentric, overlapping circles. The center circle would attempt to describe the purest form. The outermost circle would describe forms that touch on the purer forms within it in some way.

Casual discussion may include all those circles, or just the center circle, or just a few circles out from the center. People discuss all of those views. Chronologically, the center is older, the outer newer, but that analogy breaks down easily.

Like all musical genres, it's just a convenient shorthand for a huge subject. Brief genre descriptions are two-dimensional at best, when what they attempt to describe are wildly multi dimensional. I mean, what is the definition of "Rock & Roll"?
« Last Edit: February 14, 2017, 07:46:56 AM by Rivers »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2017, 09:33:42 AM »
Instead of trying to find the cut and dried, patented, correct definition, I'd shoot for a working definition or an effectively functioning definition for the purposes of the class. Jeff Todd Titon goes into his reasons for choosing "early downhome blues" instead of country blues for the "pure" form, so you  might look at what he says about the subject.

I agree with Rivers and would add that it is a classification system--fuzzy around the edges, and as has been suggested by many, a category for marketing in some cases. For example:

https://www.amazon.com/Country-Blues-Muddy-Waters/dp/B0000583H1

So there's wiggle room, room for disagreement and plenty of room for discussion.
 

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2017, 10:32:45 AM »
I actually don't think its as hard to define as some. A primarily un-notated music of the African Diaspora that developed among Black musicians in the southern states of the United States in the last quarter of the 19th century (after slavery) and persisted in its original form until around WWII and in some isolated cases much later. It was played primarily on Guitar, Piano, and Harmonica and was recorded for local consumption on 78rpm shellac records in the 1920's and 30's into the 40's.
It derived from Black Church music, Classical Ragtime, the records of female Vaudeville type Blues singers who used full Jazz orchestras, Field Hollers and other work songs, and dealt with all aspects of the lives of its creators and audience, particularly in the realms of romantic/domestic relations, and social/legal injustice. Before the advent of radio and electrical recording techniques the music had strong local character which became homogenized as the dissemination of records broke down local stylistic identities.
It enjoyed a brief spate of popularity among college age White audiences in the late 1950's-1960's as part of the Folk music revival, which saw many younger White musicians adopting the music, though the disparity in social background and condition, and lack of musical comprehension made that irksome to some. It is currently being re-discovered by younger Black musicians who did not have first hand experience with the original players.
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Offline oddenda

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2017, 06:43:55 PM »
O' -

          It's basically a white folks label that was created to pigeon hole something that they really didn't understand. A handy device. (Guilty as charged!)

pbl
« Last Edit: February 15, 2017, 07:31:10 PM by oddenda »

Offline frailer24

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2017, 08:28:02 PM »
I consider CB as "music of simple people, for simple people, by simple people". Our heroes (for the most part) weren't terribly worried about trying to be somebody they weren't, like today's big names. They were proud of who they were and the musical legacy left to us.
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Offline waxwing

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2017, 07:33:25 AM »
"Simple" has some pretty poor implications. Living under the constant threat of the violence of Jim Crow was anything but simple. Southern Blacks were certainly as intelligent as any human being, as evidenced by the music they created among other things, but were kept in ignorance and constant trauma, which are both debilitating and demoralizing. The music is a testament of their ability to have a life despite these circumstances.

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Offline Pontius2000

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2017, 08:25:43 AM »
My personal definition of "country blues" would be pre-war blues that is not accompanied by piano or horns. To me, blues accompanied by piano or horns is "city blues" or "jazzy blues" whereas "country blues" is accompanied by guitar, harmonica, fiddle, or other stringed instrument. Of course, you have someone like Skip James who was clearly a "country blues" musician who had both guitar based and piano based blues songs. Then you have Tampa Red who'd be considered more "city blues", but was considered a slide guitar master. So there's definitely exceptions. But to me (again, purely my opinion) any of the pre-war delta, piedmont, or Texas blues would be considered "country blues".

Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2017, 06:44:38 PM »
I recall seeing an ad in a circa 1952 Billboard for Sittin' in With Records that used the phrase "country blues" to describe a new single by one of their artists, IIRC Lightnin' but perhaps Brownie McGhee. So it's not just a fake genre invented by record collectors like Sam Charters in 1959. Which is not say that Lightnin' or Brownie knew or used the term. But I think we can and should try to distinguish "country" blues from, say, jazz-influenced jump blues.

Country blues is a form of folk and popular music that originated with the African diaspora in the Southern USA. It was primarily played on string instruments by a solo artist or small band, and reflected a rural orientation or worldview, even though some of its purveyors lived in, or moved to urban environments. Country blues musicians could incorporate pop songs, e.g. Leadbelly learning the Tin Pan Alley "Irene, Goodnight," but the result lacks the interest of songs that originated with the singer or his/her environment.

Once the record industry established country blues as a commercial form after 1926, it became a full-fledged form of popular music. A&R men encouraged an exaggerated emphasis on sex and alcohol, much the same way that the selfsame A&R men encouraged "moonshine" records from white country artists, creating a wholly distorted public perception of country blues artists and their repertoire that persisted for decades. 


Offline RobBob

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2017, 08:48:40 AM »
Country blues is like old time music, a name produced by advertising folks in big cities to sell music to a specific audience, a way to keep things straight for those who did not know or care outside of the potential for sales.  Ironically the folks, white and black, played the same music and this arbitrary division gave the appearance that black folks listened to other black folks and white folks listened to other white folks, when in fact, they both listened to each other and played a lot of the same music.  Especially among the working class of both races.  Hence we have black string bands and CDs entitled Mountain Blues Guitar, and Hillbilly Blues and the like.  Many of the musicians were actually songsters and their repertories flowed back and forth.

Offline davet

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2017, 02:23:55 PM »
Greetings

Thank you all for posting your thoughts. They are all really helpful.

davet 

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2017, 07:43:45 AM »
I can only stand so much deconstruction and historical revision and I cain't stands no more! The idea that the designation "Blues" or "Country Blues" (I prefer Rural) was a fiendish segregationist plot put together by smart record execs is mostly nonsense. When you say that someone like Sam Charters, and after all who the hell was he, invented the phrase in 1959 I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Inadvertently in your righteous zeal, you folks have gone over the edge into disempowering the people who invented this music and most likely named it that which it was later called by White folks. Twist this way and that, believe what you want, compile and present your evidence, but that don't make it so.
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2017, 10:24:47 AM »
O'Muck has a point but with all due respect I think there are two underlying but related questions here. One is the question that the OP asked, viz "what is the (unqualified) definition of CB", and and the other is "who originated the term CB".

I have no pat answers, I took a stab at the first question, and have no knowledge or opinions on the second.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2017, 01:28:35 PM »
Yeah, again, I have to agree with Rivers--and with Phil. At a certain point, the attempts at deconstruction become overdone, tedious and very tiresome. But what the OP is asking about is an effective functioning definition within the current context that he can use for the class--and not the last word on the subject. And this is secondary to listening to the music and learning about the people who made it--and those who continue to make it--as well as the context in which they lived and in which it was created, played and sung--and performed, both professionally and otherwise. (And I'll add recorded and marketed.)

Even if exhaustive research found the earliest recorded attested usage of the term CB, it would be just that. It wouldn't tell us who first used the term and what he or she had in mind when they used it.  It is lost to history. And it wouldn't tell us about the evolution and development of the term in its totality, because there's simply no way to know. Thus, my above post.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2017, 01:39:09 PM by Stuart »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #15 on: March 01, 2017, 08:52:57 PM »
Logic may help us out here. Arguably, the 'country' adjective would have been redundant until some 'other' type of blues appeared, since it was all rural up until then, or at least I think we can assume it was.

If we follow that logic it's not too much of a stretch to think that some new form of blues had to have appeared to make a 'country' qualifier necessary. Maybe it first appeared during the great migration to the northern cities. Maybe it appeared as recently as Muddy Waters first plugging-in for the Chess brothers in 1946 and ripping it up in the clubs. He had a song called 'Country Blues' recorded for the Loc. I don't know if he carried it across to his electric band repertoire but I imagine he did.

Just my 2 cents on possible origins of the term.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #16 on: March 02, 2017, 12:22:21 AM »
That thought crossed my mind as well: "In contrast to/ compared to/  parallel to/ etc. to/ what?" But it could also have been a stand alone identification of some kind, or instead of referring to a type of song style or genre, it could have even possibly referred to theme(s) or content. I wish I knew what the first person(s) to use the term specifically had in mind and how it evolved from there, if in fact there was a single starting point. Different people could have come up with it independently, with different lines of transmission between individuals and changes of meaning along the way. It's been known to happen. And as you might guess, I've seen this phenomena before, albeit in a different subject area.

Offline oddenda

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #17 on: March 02, 2017, 05:19:36 PM »
Rivers -

          I'm sure that Muddy did not name his LofC piece "Country Blues", but that Alan Lomax did. He certainly did William Brown's "Mississippi Blues"... no mention of the state anywhere in the lyrics! "WE often have that tendency in the moment!! Even me. I remember a respected researcher wanting to spell it "reals" instead of "reels" back in the day. White folks... gotta love us.

pbl

Offline Rivers

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #18 on: March 02, 2017, 08:38:18 PM »
Thanks Peter. Maybe add Lomax to the list of progenitors of the CB term.

Likely as not it was always floating around out there, like granny's 'country baked beans', which were pretty much the same as cousin Leroy's plain old 'baked beans'. Folks probably thought granny's tasted better as a result of innocent downhome marketing setting up their expectations for a good time.

'Country'-anything is still big in the USA and elsewhere, and seldom seen as a negative. Many people yearn for what they believe would be a more enlightened lifestyle outside the cities and towns. Whoever said 'you can't miss what you never had' was wrong. Living on a farm, after yet another day full of deadlines, multitasking and unplanned events, I would say 'be careful what you wish for!'

I wouldn't trade it though, and will now stop rambling.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2017, 09:06:33 PM by Rivers »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #19 on: March 03, 2017, 06:32:09 AM »
I've also heard it referred to as Hillbilly Blues by at least one Black woman from Baltimore in her 70's. I bet only a few of you remember when it was frequently referred to as "Primitive" Blues or "Primitive Country Blues". In an academic context, painters like Masaccio were likewise referred to as Italian primitives. I think they meant it to mean foundational rather than undeveloped.
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Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #20 on: March 03, 2017, 05:00:16 PM »
I can only stand so much deconstruction and historical revision and I cain't stands no more! The idea that the designation "Blues" or "Country Blues" (I prefer Rural) was a fiendish segregationist plot put together by smart record execs is mostly nonsense. When you say that someone like Sam Charters, and after all who the hell was he, invented the phrase in 1959 I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Inadvertently in your righteous zeal, you folks have gone over the edge into disempowering the people who invented this music and most likely named it that which it was later called by White folks. Twist this way and that, believe what you want, compile and present your evidence, but that don't make it so.

Was this directed at me? Because I specifically said Charters did not invent the phrase "country blues" in 1959.

Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #21 on: March 03, 2017, 05:07:53 PM »
I think many people nowadays would define "country" blues as being virtually synonymous with acoustic blues. Of course we can argue that Muddy plugging in is still "country" blues, but his 1950s sound is quite different from his 1940 sound.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #22 on: March 03, 2017, 05:31:47 PM »
Ah yes and what about... Houston Stackhouse covering Tommy Johnson, Howlin' Wolf's entire output, Lightnin' Hopkins plugged-in, Robert Nighthawk, Arthur Crudup, late Memphis Minnie, Fred, Burnside, and so on. If it isn't country blues it must be electric country blues.

Genre names are slippery customers and hard to nail down. Give a concise definition, under three paragraphs, and people will shoot it full of holes.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2017, 05:47:35 PM by Rivers »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #23 on: March 03, 2017, 06:59:27 PM »
@Gilgamesh,
No, more the idea which has gained traction in the past decade that the name was invented as a marketing strategy. Maybe as a corollary to the pre existing name. People tend to run away with a good idea with a germ of truth.


« Last Edit: March 03, 2017, 07:00:56 PM by Mr.OMuck »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #24 on: March 03, 2017, 09:57:12 PM »
And here I was hopin' you'd come to the rescue with the musical parameters John!...Oh well! :(
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline thickpete

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #25 on: March 09, 2017, 06:12:51 PM »
No right answer to this obviously - though Muck's (while evocative and not inaccurate) resonates least with me.

But then I love most music/sound and enjoy that most which is least self constricted.

Quote
?I understand the categorization of music, but I really don?t adhere to categories at all.  See, I see things in their totality, not in their segmented manner that man has superimposed upon them. ?Did you like the music?? ?Fine.? That?s all that?s necessary.?
Walt Dickerson


Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #26 on: March 09, 2017, 08:53:18 PM »
Hey thick, if you're going to get into argument posture, at least have the courage to put forth your argument. Personally however, I don't give a flying duck's ass what does or doesn't resonate with you!
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline thickpete

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Re: Can anyone help me with a definition of Country Blues please.
« Reply #27 on: March 11, 2017, 07:00:27 PM »

Easy there O'Muck.....No argument posture from me. Though my comment may read more snarkily than I intended it to. My simple statement was that there was no clear and meaningful definition of the term - same as with all musical "genres". That's all. I thought my meaning was obvious - though not intended as hostile. Meant as a comment on the arguments put forth and not intended as ad hominem.

Happy trails....
« Last Edit: March 11, 2017, 07:12:43 PM by thickpete »

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