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 Seventies

The spirit of Woodstock was still in the air as the seventies dawned. Annual blues festivals were staged in Washington DC, San Francisco, Memphis and the University town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Blues artists appeared in profusion at mixed events like the University of Chicago Folk Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The event most typical of its time was Ann Arbor, founded in 1969 with a jaw-dropping opening line up of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Son House, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Freddie King, Fred McDowell, Magic Sam, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker and more.

Due to organizational and security problems, the seeds of the blues festivals were scattered far and wide by 1974. The college town festivals were supplemented by regional events with local artists and sponsors, like the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival or Atlanta's Georgia Grassroots Festival. Some were underwritten in part by tax revenues slated for the arts, which helped to legitimize the blues.

Australia and Japan opened up as blues markets. In March 1979, B.B. King played in the USSR, the first time a blues band ventured behind the iron curtain. Britain was now a minor player; the blues' best friend in Europe was France, thanks partly to distinguished emigrees like Memphis Slim who were attracted by the relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere of Paris, a home away from home for Black American artists since the twenties. France also boasted Europe's best jazz festivals. which were hospitable to blues musicians.

Even more importantly for artists trying to get exposure, French companies like Black and Blue afforded recording opportunities few American labels were offering. This rapidly growing catalogue became a kind of reproof to the American blues business, especially in the mid - seventies when they began to fly to Chicago to record promising artists right under the noses of the locals.

Perhaps goaded into action by the French upstarts, Alligator records conceived a six-album series called Living Chicago Blues to proclaim to the world that the city's blues was alive, well, and continually renewing itself. The line-up was composed of youngish men and women with reputations still to make: Jimmy Johnson, Lacy Gibson, Queen Sylvia Embry, Andrew Brown, Lonnie Brooks, The Sons of Blues.

The streets these young players strode still held some of the old club names like Theresa's, Pepper's Lounge, the Checkerboard, (Buddy Guy's place) Florence's and Ma Bea's, but a new clubland was growing among the boutiques and pizza parlors of the North Side; venues like the Wise Fools Pub, Kingston Mines, B.L.U.E.S. and Buddy Milligan's drew a clientele made up of mainly white students and professionals, but booked many of the same artists as the black clubs - acts like Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks and Mighty Joe Young. Still, Chicago could not possibly support the dozens of bands based in the city, and another source of income opened up: club gigs in midwestern college towns like Madison Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska. The blues was on the move again, and at high speed.

Copyright ©2002-2008 by Tony Russell/

Blues Beginnings: The Seventies