What can you learn from the blues today?
When Guitar Player first started in 1967, many of the great bluesmen and blueswomen were still alive, and their stories filled the pages of this magazine. Now, they say everyone can feel the blues—and I mostly believe that to be true—but some people feel it more intensely and honestly than others. Most of the old guard received their blues from the fields, or in the cities, and practically all of it from being outcast, segregated, and/or treated unfairly in ways both subtle and harsh. Many of these players were quite gracious about it when talking to journalists, musicians, and fans, but, whoa, those souls had to experience a whole lot of hellholes before the blues could set itself up consistently—and proudly—in arenas.
Society is obviously different today. Music is absorbed differently from past eras, as well. You might argue music has become more like a background soundtrack for one’s daily life than a vessel of protest and cultural enlightenment. Sure, there has always been easy-listening, day-dreamy music, but styles such as electric blues and rock seemed to strike out against the malaise and struggle and sweat for a deeper relevance that could lift a person up, or show them a mirror of a world that was so wrong and evil that it had to change.
Do you feel that in the blues songs of today?
There’s no disrespect meant here to the fabulously talented blues musicians of this moment in time, who certainly can’t be faulted for not being born in 1905, or for not living a certain type of life. And even if today’s players were 100-year-old vampires, the audience would have changed around them, anyway. It’s hard to make arguments against progress.
But that’s where I always thought musicians were so lucky. We bow to things like feel and vibe and creation. Technique can get stronger, fingers faster, amps and guitars and other gizmos improved and so on. But our hearts seek truth, and only we can water down or “deepen up” the sounds that come from our fingers and mouths. Progress doesn’t matter. Technology doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter whether you play blues or jazz or rock or country or punk—unvarnished emotion should explode from your every musical gesture.
The old guard may have had truth and passion on their side because they struggled in ways many of us can only imagine. Life may not be as desperate as that for many of us now, and, if so, how do you keep your music honest and deep and instructive when, well, things are basically good? A conundrum? Please share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.