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Blues Talk forum: > Blues Talk 3: "bluesmen" and blues feelings
Blues Talk 3: "bluesmen" and blues feelings
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115 posts
Jan 09, 2013
6:01 AM
It seems having some of the experiences mentioned in blues songs and the soulfulness just makes sense at some point for a small segment of non-African Americans. Is this the entry point for heavy fans and musicians who had not previously been exposed to such music? Although there is that contingent of white blues fans, it seems that blues has a (musical) minority following regardless of ethnicity. I guess blues is for minorities of all races (how's that for paradoxical).

One feeling mentioned was fear. In Blade Runner, Roy says, "Do you know what it is to live in fear? That's what it means to be a slave." There were white slaves early in US history, and serfdom in Europe and Asia led to notorious conditions of poverty and oppression for hundreds of years. Nothing new. Slavery still exists today in many forms, old and new (basic data on UN website). Also, economic conditions are not so hot right now. Many people live in fear and anxiety every day. Of course blues has a unique socio historical context, but similar injustice has and does occur elsewhere.

Another feeling mentioned is that of moral outrage at the level of violence directed at civilians, which even today is commonplace around the world. Even as an Italian-American, as a Muslim I feel sorrow when others that share my faith are being bombed and droned in at least five countries right now, especially painful when it's mainly being perpetrated by a "white" political power structure.

I'm not arguing for blues universalism here, but just trying to point out some entry points which might lead some people to be moved and identify with the genre.

Also mentioned was a feeling of loss (or appropriation) of culture to outsiders. I was stunned when watching The Original Kings of Comedy film, when Steve Harvey started ripping apart hip-hop and rap, saying they had lost something huge when they "lost the love" in their music. He said he was old-school and proceeded to play some soul and r&b classic love songs. Up until now I'd only seen blues musicians asked what they think of the kids taking up rap not blues, and usually they responded lukewarmly that they took it in a new direction (no way musicians were gonna trash talk them). That soul music moved a large part of the audience at a comedy show, and later he pointed out the strong role of church in their lives.

I try to make sense of the defensive reaction to "white blues hegemony" in terms of mindset by applying Steven Covey. There is a scarcity mentality (lose-win in this case) and an abundance mentality (win-win, play to the audience and everybody is happy). Everyone has to deal with povery at some point in his or her life, and this is yet another theme in blues songs, along with the elation of finally getting a few bucks together.

So I wholeheartedly agree with finding middle ground between the two positions. Not to resolve the paradox, but to better understand it. Looking forward to the next Blues Talk.

Last Edited by on Jan 09, 2013 9:27 AM
9 posts
Jan 09, 2013
9:50 AM
I seem to be one step behind in my posting so I'm reposting on this thread. Also, my main point is clearer to me this morning. I'm currently of the opinion that the oppression component of the Blues Conditions is not limited to a specific culture. It can be abstracted/extracted and recognized as a human experience.

I second mojojojo's point that slavery continues to exist and make that point below.

After I dropped out of college I worked at a series of menial jobs and then became a roadie for a country rock band. It was my first experience with having a job that was so much fun that no aspect of it was true work. When the band folded two years later I was bereft. The very thought of punching a clock, of having my time dominated by repetitive labor with objects that were utterly without interest to me, of living without the stimulus of new experience, was enough, just imaging the thought in my mind's eye was enough, to make me shriek inside.

Humping 100 lb corrugated cardboard boxes from a pallet to metal shelving and then humping others from the shelves to a pallet and to the loading dock and matching 15 digit numbers on boxes and lists is onerous in itself. Warehouses are hot and sweaty in the summer and cold in the winter. The boxes have road grime and noxious and toxic dust on them which readily transfers to clothing. So readily that work clothes from commercial laundries were necessary. And those marked you as a working stiff, a warm body. Even the retail clerks looked down their noses at the folks who worked with their backs.

Add to that a boss who spoke only in barks and snarls meant to keep you moving and who delighted in sneaking up on workers so he could keep them on their toes. Many petty supervisors feel it necessary to humiliate workers as a matter of course. Just to "show 'em who's boss". Usually workers are left muttering to themselves about such mistreatment. Keeping a smooth face to prevent those thoughts from being displayed was primary requirement for keeping the job. A job that provided enough money for the only cheapest of necessaries. Being single, I bought good quality boots and gloves and bought lunch from the Coca-Cola sign café around the corner. The guys with obligations carried baloney sandwiches from home.

Working conditions like these or frustration at being trapped at the bottom of society are not solely the property of African-Americans. Although I have met many, many people who think that. But there is common ground in that experience. The difference then was that if you were white, you had a shot at getting out. Nobody assumed that you were stupid, irresponsible, or the spawn of the devil (this is not an exaggeration) because you were white.

What is there to say to a person who is insensate to your humanity and can fire you at will and deprive you of sustenance? That's some Blues.

That would be a great last line. But my most important point is that Blues Conditions still exist. Hundreds of thousands of people (not all black) today live in hovels all over the USA with no more chance of escaping than their parents or grandparents had. But now we have television and the internet. Today, poor people know what they're missing out on and the injustice of it. Their expectations are much higher than their parents' were and they can exercise freedom of speech. The Blues used allusion and double entendre. Hip-Hop and Rap openly express rage. So society changed some and another musical form came into being.

Oh, if you're wondering about the next job I went to, I unloaded/loaded big trucks for cash until I convinced one of the truckers to teach me how to drive.
10 posts
Jan 09, 2013
10:13 AM
Miscued on the mouse before I finished editing. The reason I mentioned being a roadie and trucking is that they were alternatives to menial jobs at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy. My spirit wasn't imprisoned. In fact, it had frequent opportunity to soar.

Still, quite a few Blues feelings also come along with those jobs. On your own far from home and no local ties as resources or protection. Loneliness, missing your sweetheart or wife, betrayal (the company, record company, promoters), endless toil.

Blues conditions and Blues feelings aren't universal but a huge portion of humanity have them.
3782 posts
Jan 09, 2013
7:52 PM
One thing that often gets lost when folks assume a one-to-one correspondence between "the blues" and African American social history (with a stress on oppression and unpleasant, exploitative work conditions) is a flattening of the surprisingly broad palette of reasons why non-African Americans play the blues. But let's reduce "non-African Americans" still further to white Americans. Even there, the range of reasons are large--and they at least partially overlap the reasons why contemporary and near-contemporary African Americans play the blues.

Salaam argued that as Jim Crow faded, whites and blacks were becoming more like each other, and he claimed that whites who played the blues were often second generation decendants of Eastern European Jews, Irish, and other folks from the margins rather than the center. My paternal grandfather was a Lithuanian-Russian Jew. I knew lots of Jewish and Italian guys in NYC who played harp. I knew a stone mason named Mason Casey. Some white blues performers such as Mike Bloomfield, John Hammond, and Susan Tedeschi, come from rich families. Some, such as Bonnie Raitt, come from families of actors and artists. (My father was an award winning but fairly poor artist, a painter. My mother was a college professor from a poor West Coast family. I guess I come from the artist/intelligentsia part of the spectrum.) Some white blues performers come from the working class. William Clarke was a welder, I believe, or worked on cars. Deak Harp is a working guy.

When I hooked up with Sterling Magee, I had recently gotten a job tutoring writing at Hostos Community College at 149th and the Grand Concourse in the South Bronx for $6 an hour. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But once I started playing with Sterling, I quickly realized that I could make more playing on the street than working as a tutor for minimum wage. Like Honeyboy Edwards, once I saw the profit in blues, I didn't want to work--figuratively speaking--in the cottonfields. It was more profitable and much more exciting to be making music.

Some of the custom harp guys and mic guys--harpwrench is a good example--are skilled materials professionals from the industrial age, guys who know drill presses, machining processes, STUFF. They're good with their hands. As deindustrialization has set it, they've remanufactured themselves so as to create lives as a different kind of skilled professional.

"White blues" is a silly category. People who look like me and play blues or make a living in connection with the music come from all over the map, in class terms, and they bring a wide range of affective investments (i.e., feelings, conscious and unconscious commitments, ideas about the music and about their place in the music) to what they do.

I'm not a bluesman. I'm an R&B sax player trapped in a harmonica player's body, with some power-mad DIY Cream-worship thrown in.

Deak is a bluesman.

The late Frankie Paris, who I profiled in JOURNEYMAN'S ROAD, was a (white, Italian) soul man who made his living in the blues.

Irving Louis Lattin, black Chicagoan in the NYC blues scene, had a pop/R&B sensibility backed by deep Chicago blues knowledge. He was the voice of Viagra--the "I'm Ready" campaign--and never quite got his big break.

Bill Sims, Jr., like Billy Branch and Corey Harris, is a college educated, hip, politically progressive African American blues player with lots of other stuff going on. Billy has his blues-in-the-schools program. Corey runs, or has run, the summer blues-training program at a well-known West Coast folk music school. He teaches white folks and a few black folks how to play the blues. Bill has his business together. He understands the whole ASCAP/BMI publishing thing better than anybody I know. He has totally diversified his economic base in the blues--more than most of the white blues guys in the NYC scene, for sure.

John Hahn works in a NYC ad agency. White guy. He manages Shemekia Copeland and writes most of her songs.

Last Edited by on Jan 10, 2013 4:50 AM
11 posts
Jan 10, 2013
11:00 AM

Yes sir. Stipulated. I didn't define the domain of my comments. Let me add a line. Working for a boss or a company that is insensate one's humanity isn't limited to blue collar jobs as the popularity comic strip Dilbert amply demonstrates.

The point I rather ham-handedly tried to make is that Blues Feelings are part of a human core and I think this is part of the widespread appeal of the BLues.
116 posts
Jan 11, 2013
9:10 AM
Don't have any blues books, but found this quote on Wikipedia entry for Blues Dance:

"So far as what was called blues, that
didn't come till 'round 1917...What we
had in my coming up days was music
for dancing, and it was of all different
sorts" - Mance Lipscomb, Texas
guitarist and singer

Wald, Escaping the Delta, 2004,
p. 43.
117 posts
Jan 12, 2013
6:42 AM
clip from kings of comedy mentioned above...about half of the segment



Last Edited by on Jan 12, 2013 7:00 AM

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