Blues Beginnings

Jim Morrison once said “I am an American first.” The Blues, one of only a few truly American artforms, appropriately provides the backbone to the music of the Doors. Here you can explore it's roots, history and players.

The Blues in Popular Music

Sometime in the early sixties, the blues sank it's teeth firmly into the backside of popular music. It was more of a shock than a mad dog's bite - pop didn't turn overnight into a blues-bellowing monster. But it did leave its mark. Ever since then, popular music has always had the blues in mind.

It's ironic that the British rockers were the ones who finally popularized the deeply American blues into pop music. The Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and the Animals, to name a few, produced music which was chiseled out of a stratum of pure blues. At their gigs, the Rolling Stones not only played wall-to-wall cover versions of obscure American blues, but told the audience what labels the originals could be found on.

In fact, the old bulldog blues has been yapping at the heels of popular music for most of the twentieth century. The basic musical architecture of the blues, the three-line, twelve-bar verse, became recognizable through early jazz, which used it to build enduring moments like Louis Armstrong's West End Blues. In the mid-twenties, a dance craze called the Blues washed over Britain and the United States. On the eve of World War, II there was an international craze for boogie-woogie, which was nothing but the blues set to a different beat.

But the blues' ambush of pop in the sixties marked something more significant than earlier pop's fondness for borrowing 12 bars here and there. A generation of musicians emerged then who had learned their trade on guitars rather than saxophones and pianos, and from records, rather than sheet music or orchestra scores. While the rest of the world was taking Three Steps to Heaven or trying on An Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini, there was an underworld of music being made by men and women with names like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Minnie, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley and Big Mama Thornton. They were taking the Key to the Highway, goin' down to The Crossroads and lookin' for a Kind Hearted Woman, all to music which was hardly fancier than a heartbeat - instrumentation stripped to it's essentials.

The sixties wears a medal for keeping the blues alive. The music might not have drowned, but it was surely drifting out to sea. B.B. King declares that without the intervention of musicians like Eric Clapton he might never have been known outside of black America. It took mediators from the other side of the Atlantic to awaken America to this rich part of its own culture.

Copyright ©2002-2008 by Tony Russell/

Blues Beginnings: The Blues in Popular Music