The Blues went Pop
Rhythms from the black Plantations, seeped into the Church & the Folk Blues of the Mississippi, influenced the Country jigs of the Appalachians and then blossomed into the vocal & instrumental Classic Blues of the South before distinctively American R&B went North to Chicago & onto New York and then into -
1950s Rock 'n' Roll with honking saxes and electric guitars (from Louis Jordan) and merged with Country & Western (from Bill Haley & Elvis Presley & Buddy Holly) and into
1960s Soul from Ray Charles & James Brown went back to Gospel and then into Doo Wop, Motown, Disco, Funk and even Reggae ...
1960s Folk Rock from Bob Dylan from Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie
Rhythm & Blues also went across the Atlantic to England and into -
1950s Skiffle from Lonnie Donegan went back to early jug bands. Leadbelly and Blues
1960s The Beatles and beat guitar music then The Animals & The Kinks then Eric Clapton & The Rolling Stones
1970s Rock from Led Zeppelin &, Pink Floyd the White Blues went back to the Classic Folk Blues of Robert Johnson and then to Rock.
Sure there were Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and the Grand Ole Opry gang, but mainstream blues flowed through Louis Jordan and Ray Charles into the Rock 'n' Roll explosion.
Driven by white musicians it was the big band swing and the ballad vocalists that moved away from the blues. As Marvin Gaye said, 'everyone wanted to to sell to whites 'cos it was the whites that had the money'.
But ... there were new white kids on the block who deliberately went back to the black roots of the blues ... reacting after hearing the pop dilutions of the Swing Bands and white Rock 'n' Rollers.
Jazz was pulled back to these roots which were thriving in R&B via the small band swing groups, the Dixieland revival and the blues & funk of Charlie Parker and Art Blakey ...
It was only with hindsight that the mainstream of American popular music can be seen as the evolution of the blues.
WHITE BLUES - Folk Blues in England
1950s Ken Colyer & Chris Barber
Two important streams emerged from the Chris Barber Band after Ken Colyer left.
Chris Barber continued Ken Colyer's skiffle group and started importing American bluesmen to play with his band in England -
White Blues & Skiffle - in 1954 Lonnie Donegan and the skiffle craze which inspired the The Quarrymen and The Beatles of the 1960s ...
'Skiffle' became a short lived craze but led to John Lennon.
In 1956, amongst many others (Pete Wright did the same at The Wall City Jazz Club) John Lennon started a 'Skiffle Group'; 'The Quarrymen'. This was pop and led to The Beatles and was cemented into folk rock in 1965 when Bob Dylan, an American singer songwriter went electric at Newport and influenced the world of rock instrumentalists and 'Sergeant Pepper' in 1967.
White Blues & Rock- in 1956 a series of black American Blues performers were imported and showcased to British audiences and white Blues musicians which inspired the British rockers of the 1960s ...
'Rock' became established as a mainstream of pop music inspired by God Eric Clapton.
In 1958 Eric Clapton was given a guitar and started practicing the Blues. Blues virtuosos with electric guitars went down an alternative track to pop and established Rock. Cohesive bands with an distinctive style based on the Chicago blues of Muddy Waters.
1960s The Beatles.
John Lennon (1940-80)
In 1956 John Lennon picked up his guitar and started playing Lonnie Donegan's skiffle in Liverpool with his 'Quarrymen' ... interactive group spontaneity ... in 1957 John invited Paul McCartney to join and the pair started interacting almost goading one another into action? Paul brought his mate George Harrison with him. At the same time there was an umbilical connection with the past which Ken Colyer & Chris Barber had nurtured ... and an attraction to a positive public response, especially with the girls who were pulled into frenetic Jive and backward dancing ... they had the ear of the public and access to the girls ... a king of imaginary democracy?
In 1960 Lennon agreed to the name The Beatles, and they started as a live band playing covers of other people's music for the kids. The name was in a clever twist on Buddy Holly & The Crickets.
With the hand claps of the girls, dance rhythms and the loose energy of the surf sound this could be Surf on the Mersey. The girls loved the Fab Four, they all dreamt of being a 'Supreme' and dating a 'Beatle'.
The Beatles came to the Blues indirectly via Lonnie Donegan
and Chuck Berry, Buddy
Holly and The Everly Brothers, Little Richard ...
'Please Please Me' 1963, 1967 'Sergeant Pepper', 1968 'The Beatles' ... and 'the Blues went Pop' ...
Buddy Holly (1936-59) & The Crickets, were an American Rock 'n' Roll band from Texas. Buddy Holly followed Elvis and Bill Hayley into 'rockabilly' Rock 'n' Roll. Buddy was writing his own songs ... 'That'll be the Day' 1957, 'Oh Boy'. But fame was cut short by a plane crash after only one & a half years of success ...
But The Beatles went on ... and on ... 1963 ‘Please Please Me,’ crackles with cross Atlantic energy, inspired by American pop but rooted in British determination. By the time they made their sixth album, ‘Rubber Soul,’ Lennon & McCartney were writing their own guitar songs and shaping pop as Rock guitar music gained impetus ...
Everybody liked them; all the Rock 'n' Rollers, the girls, the easy listeners, the folksters, even jazzers and classical nerds. They were a cultural elite; original innovators. The 12 bar blues and 32 bar forms, repetitive riffs and 3 chord tricks were still there ... but unexpected chord changes, irregular phrase lengths and sequences began to appear ... when four square dancing was not the priority ...
But folk only wanted to listen to you when you were famous, but to become famous you had to get the dancers twitching?
In 1963 The Beatles led the first Brit Invasion into America - John Lennon (electric guitar), Paul McCartney (electric bass), George Harrison (lead guitar) and Ringo Starr (drums).
1967 'The Beatles'
1967 ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, a masterpiece, but then each of the Beatles’ 12 albums were classics. But with 'Sergeant Pepper' The Beatles had moved from rowdy Rock 'n' Roll and got arty ...
The great achievement of The Beatles was to pick up guitars and play their own music that others enjoyed. Their music moved from Rock 'n' Roll to something else, more remote from the Blues mainstream, still loved by many but soon innovation dried up ... meanwhile The Beatles had killed off Rock 'n' Roll and made space for all manner of Rock guitar music ... and pretty ballads ...
Pretty people sing pretty songs and play pretty music created by producers with synthesisers as creative musicians playing the Blues were squeezed. Every attempt to sanitised the Blues and move it too much to white tastes seemed to fail ... at the same time the Blues were always played and always enjoyed as an ongoing living legend.
The Beatles were way ahead but The Kinks from North London were also rans ...
1960s The Rockers.
Eric Clapton (1945-) was born in Surrey and given a guitar on his 13th birthday in 1958, just at the time every teenaged was picking up a guitar and having a go. He became interested in the blues chords and from the age of 15 was focused on practicing and playing along to records. Eric became the 'Clapton is God' of the electric guitar virtuosity and a Brit who worshipped the ancient American Blues. The usual suspects; Ledbelly, Son House, Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin; Wolf, Joe Turner, Champion Jack Dupree, Sleepy John Estes, Jesse Fuller, Elmore James, B B King, Buddy Guy ...
Many British guitarists cottoned on to Barber's Blues imports and 'plugged in' as the electric city blues of the Chicago Blues of Muddy Waters became, perhaps, more exciting than the folk blues of Big Bill Broonsy ...
It certainly looked like a split in the blues; America, the skifflers, The Beatles & Bob Dylan went to the folk blues of Ledbelly but Eric Clapton and the Marquee Club gang went to the blues of Robert Johnson but via the electric sounds of Chicago urban blues ...
Clapton developed that overdrive blues sound on the 'Gibson Les Paul' electric guitar with the Marshall amp ... the sound became the sound of white blues ... along with the Fender Stratocaster ...
In 1963-65 Eric joined The Yardbirds, then from 1965 John Mayall's Blues Breakers and in 1966 'Cream'. There were other groups 'Blind Faith', 'Delaney and Bonnie and Friends', 'Derek and The Dominos', but essentially Clapton went on to a solo career and 'Layla' 1970 ...
Clapton was a great friend of George Harrison and his wife and at one time it was rumoured that he was a potential replacement for Harrison in The Beatles ... Rock and Pop were close friends!
To get our bearings in 2011 the American Rock magazine 'Rolling Stone' published a list of the top electric guitar players, the top 5 were - Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Jeff Beck.
Blues Incorporated 1961 were a different kettle of fish, they were passionate musicians. Alexis Korner (1928-84) & Cyril Davies (1932-64) left the Chris Barber Band and had a go on their own. The first electric band in Britain. Korner became something of a father figure to the young aspiring musicians who had been infected with a love of the blues and supped at the fountain head of R&B first at The Ealing Club 1962-66, there The Stones, The Animals & The Who cut their teeth.
Then at the Marquee Club, London West End took over as the centre of attraction for the blues. Started in 1958 as a Skiffle Club & Jazz club but the halcyon days for the blues were 1964-88 at 90 Wardour Street ...
Dick Heckstall-Smith, Eric Clapton (Yardbirds), Jack Bruce (Cream), Ginger Baker (Cream), Eric Burdon (Animals) and Brian Jones, Keith Richard, Mick Jagger & Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones) ... John Mayall and Graham Bond were also there; a hot bed of blues.
Out of Blues Incorporated came and interbreeding melée of crazed London bluesmen obsessed with messing with American R&B with such energy and virtuosity that a new distinctive British music was developed; Rock.
Cyril Davies All-Stars, The Graham Bond Organisation, The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Blues Breakers, The Rolling stones, Cream, Colosseum, Fleetwood Mac were all off spring bands from this London blues cauldron.
Blues Incorporated recorded a pop song 'For Your Love' and Eric Clapton left in disgust, it was not the Blues.
Something was happening; Dick Heckstall-Smith -
'I think that there is something about British music,
British jazz music and blues music which is distinctive. We’ve had a long
history; Sidney Bechet came here more than eighty years ago in 1919.
American blues is not just black it’s a culture, partly black and partly white, there were a lot of chordal structures, chordal relationships that black people picked up on. They heard them and used them for their own purposes. That’s what I think is American, a combination of white culture and black culture that produced something new, and the new thing it produced is a thing of such enormous strength and power that it spreads across the whole world'.
Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck's guitar experiments with fuzz tone, feedback, and distortion helped revolutionize the sound as distinctive British Rock emerged. Intense blues rock which led to Led Zeppelin.
These bands balanced loud, tough, rock edged British Rock against black American R&B material.
The Graham Bond Organisation 1961, Graham was a Romford lad who played jazz with Don Rendall from the big bands. The 'Organisation' was a British jazz/rhythm and blues group - Graham Bond (vocals, keyboards, alto-saxophone), Jack Bruce (bass), Ginger Baker (drums), John McLaughlin (guitar) and Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor/soprano saxophone) ... The Hammond organ! Bond went off the rails in 1967. 'Cream' and 'Colosseum' were the successors.
The Yardbirds 1962 started as a Rock
'n' Roll band from south west London influenced by the blues. Chris Dreja (-)
was there. The Yardbird name
came from deference to American hobo music and Charlie Parker and gave an
insight into where they were coming from. But clearer roots were in the Chicago
blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley and Elmore James.
Eric Clapton joined in 1963 and a Columbia recording contract followed in 1964. Eric Clapton was lead guitar and a blues virtuoso.
But 'For Your Love' was a pop hit and not the pure blues that Clapton loved and he left in disgust in 1965!
Clapton (1945-) recommended Jimmy Page (1944-) as his replacement but he wasn't to be enticed away from lucrative gigs and in turn he recommended Jeff Beck (1944-).
Jeff Beck's guitar experiments with fuzz tone, feedback, and distortion helped revolutionize the embryonic British rock sound. But Beck was a perfectionist and 'difficult' and was fired in 1966.
Jimmy Page eventually joined the group in 1966 and led the Yardbirds until the break up in 1968. The sidemen were on drugs and Page had high ambitions, he wanted the intense blues rock sound which led to Led Zeppelin.
Clapton, his replacement Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were a remarkable trio of talent ...
Eric Clapton went on to be God
Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin and
Jeff Beck launched Raspy Rod Stewart's career!
John Mayall's Blues Breakers 1963 - John Mayall, from Cheadle went down to Alexis and The Flamingo Club and The Marquee where he recruited Eric Clapton & Jack Bruce (both later in Cream), Peter Green, who replaced Clapton, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood (later all in Fleetwood Mac), Mick Taylor (later in The Rolling Stones), Dick Heckstall-Smith (Closseum). Text book pure blues.
The album 'Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton' 1966, confirmed Clapton's prowess. 'The Beano Album' ...
Rolling Stones 1963 - Brian Jones (guitar, harmonica), Ian Stewart (piano) were there originals but Mick Jagger (lead vocals, harmonica), Keith Richards (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums) stayed with the pace ... Ronnie Wood replaced Brian Jones when he screwed up.
Pure blues - 'I can’t get no Satisfaction'
Cream 1966 - Eric Clapton (guitar), Jack Bruce (bass), Ginger Baker (drums). The first modern rock 'group', electric blues from Muddy Waters and B B King, heavy metal from Robert Johnson ...
Formed by Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce but it was Cream that made Clapton a star in America ... and a rival to Jimi Hendix!
Ginger Baker came from Graham Bond ...
Jack Bruce came from Graham Bond and Manfred Man ...
Three fanatics about the blues but going in three different directions!.
Cream came out of local Jazz into the ancient American Blues and into Rock via some pop interpretations of songs with Joe Brown who wrote songs with the boys and Felix Pappalardi the musical director at Atlantic ...
'Disraeli Gears' 1967, 'Wheels of Fire' 1968, 'Goodbye' 1968.
Felix Pappalardi & Joe Brown took Cream from its original incarnation as a Jazz / Blues band focused on Eric Clapton, into pop influenced Rock.
In America they were up against Jefferson Airplane & Grateful Dead ... who didn't know the blues ... Cream cleaned up! Then occasionally they were on with B B King and things were good!
Success, drugs, alcohol, noise levels, egotism and the real sin for blues bands no one listened to the others ... led to the fractious demise of Cream in 1968. The 'Super Group' of talented individuals didn't gel.
But 'Cream' had laid the foundation for future Rock.
Jimi Hendrix (1942-70) 1966 Hendrix came to London and formed the Experience. Just guitar, bass and drums ... Jimi was straight out of Muddy Waters and Rock 'n' Roll ... it was all going on in England, Eric Clapton was God and here came competition ... Chris Barber didn't know what he had started!
Jimi Hendix -
'I don't happen to know much about jazz. But I know most of those cats are playing nothing but the blues ... I know that much'
This lot were all into the black Blues via white Skiffle and Rock ... but there were other things going on in the 1960s in America ...
Whatever the Brits were doing taking the blues into pop it was the kids in America who were paying the piper and in the sixties these kids were going crazy for The Brits ... amongst others ...
WHITE BLUES - Folk Blues in America
The Leadbetter legacy was exploited by the 'Skiffle' crowd but above all by Bob Dylan through Guthrie & Seeger ... Leadbelly's influence was clearer than that of Robert Johnson and the Classic Blues ...
Woody Guthrie (1912-67) a figure head, the Oklahoma Cowboy, of protest and the 'dust bold' during the depression. 'This Land is Your Land',
Josh White (1914-69) a black raised in the South, the singing Christian, who moved to New York in 1931 ... another political protester who through communism acquired political baggage but he influenced many including Elvis & Bob Dylan ... the girls loved Josh, like bees to honey ...
The Weavers 1948 an American folk music quartet based in the Greenwich Village area of New York City.
Led by Pete Seeger (1919-2014) of the protest song in the 1950s. 'Goodnight Irene', 'Where have All the Flowers Gone', 'If I Had a Hammer', 'We Shall Overcome' ... Pete Seeger acknowledge the influence of Leadbelly as did the British Skifflers ...
Harry Belafonte (1927-) was of Jamaican descent and trained as an actor. He popularised Caribbean folk songs to become the King of Calypso, 'Island in the Sun', 'Day-o' in 1956 adoration ... intellectual, civil rights activist, artistic, folkloric and erotic.
The Kingston Trio in late June 1957 a canceled a week-long engagement at The Purple Onion club in San Francisco gave them their chance. Inspired by The Weavers ... 'Tom Dooley' 1958; 'Sloop John B' 196?.
Johnny Cash (1932-2003) & The Tennessee Three and 'Folsom Prison Blues'. A rockabilly country singer who followed Elvis from 1956 with successful recordings at Sun. He recorded duets with Bob Dylan.
Folk singers were alive and well on the college campus before Dylan arrived ... but Dylan was the real young rebel of the times ...
Folk Rock & Bob Dylan (1941-) a Jewish lad from the folk song tradition and an American singer songwriter who became a major figure in popular music and a reluctant figurehead of American unrest. McCartney wrote songs and loved the fans, Dylan wrote songs and didn't give a toss. Influenced by Little Richard & Hank Williams but above all he was from Woody Guthrie ...
A troubled Rock 'n' Roll poet of social unrest with narrative driven folk songs that influenced John Lennon to move on from Rock 'n' Roll. Dylan was not playing dance music, folk listened to his lyrics.
His songs, such as 'Blowin' in the Wind' 1963 and 'The Times They Are a-Changin'' ... 'Mr Tambourine Man' ... 'Like a Rolling Stone' ... such songs became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements.
A folk singer who at Newport in 1965 went electric accompanied by the Paul Bloomfield Blues Band and immediately became a Rocker and influenced the world of Rock instrumentalists.
In 1966 a tour of Europe was a peak of expectation, the cultural destiny of the world but the pressure led to a reclusive lifestyle until the 'Basement Tapes' and a search for therapeutic history in 19??.
1968 'John Wesley Harding' ...
Rock had taken root in America in the 1960s ...
back to jazz tradition
Mike Dalton comments -
I don't know where to start! My feeling is that your blue-tinted glasses
cause you to blur the distinction between lineage and lateral influence, and
to under-value anything from white origins.
Sticking to what I feel confident about:
We have classic blues (women singers accompanied by slightly jazzy small groups with piano and trumpet to the fore) followed by delta/country blues (male singers accompanied by distinctive guitar playing and occasionally a piano). In parallel we had blues shouters (male singers with big bands).
Two innovations arose out of this:
- 1 Robert Johnson took guitar playing to another level, including a new rhythmic beat.
- 2 T-Bone Walker began playing the blues on an electric guitar as a lead instrument in a band context.
These were picked up by the growing black population in Chicago, esp. at Chess Records where Muddy Waters et al developed an electric blues style that was not that popular in the USA but was admired by white guitarists and harmonica players in the UK.
The white blues guitarists (Clapton, Beck, Gallagher, Taylor) added a new driving upbeat dimension to this music which has rarely been emulated by black guitarists. This was taken back to America where it (a) raised the profile of the original black players, and (b) inspired a generation of white American blues men (Bloomfield, Kooper, Butterfield, Vaughan).
This spread out into rock forms like Southern Rock (Allman Bros).
None of this was ever all that popular.
What did become popular was blues music put into a dance/party context and was called R&B. This came via your man Jordan but esp. from the New Orleans crowd (Domino, Bartholomew, Prof Longhair). This post-war music flourished and merged with Doo-Wop, western swing, and a rhythm straight out of country music to create rock-a-billy. This big melting pot was
funneled into rock and roll.
A vital ingredient for future progress was the creation of a rhythmic riff which started with Robert Johnson, was (it is claimed) developed by Link Wray, but brought to the masses
by Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. Apart from Berry (who was trying to emulate the whites) this rhythm has never really been adopted by black artists. Ditto, the country strum rhythm mentioned above. This is why popular guitar-based rock music has been dominated by white players.>
The popularity of R&B was hugely enhanced by Berry Gordy and his Motown label. This minimised the blues origins in favour of lively and more tuneful harmony singing that appealed to all audiences. In that the Beatles tried to copy this and r'n'r as well, Gordy has a claim to be the inventor of pop music. The Beatles were their own melting pot and created new harmonies, new song styles, new recording techniques which changed everything that can now be called pop.
Next time, I'll get onto folk rock, country music, country rock, country pop and a whole area of music only tangentially influenced by blues. (Except you won't agree!)
So, where were we.
European folk music came to America with the immigrants and there remains a very close connection today with Scottish and Irish music played on guitars, mandolins, fiddles, pipes, drums, pianos and accordions. Interaction with slave music introduced some blues songs but not sung in a country blues style and with not much influence on the way the instruments were played.
Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams all sang some blues but this is not reflected in how their music sounds. Instead strumming and fast fiddle and banjo playing established a drive and bounce not much found in other American music. The most important differentiation from blues and R&B is in the calibre of melody and lyricism.
Rock-a-billy evolved when country singers brought their dance rhythms to join the R&B party.
At much the same time, folk singers were popularising traditional songs. And Bob Dylan was going further and reinventing and writing protest songs.
After the Motown/Beatles transformation into rock-based pop music, even folk singers wanted to be the Beatles. This created folk rock (initially mostly rocked up Dylan songs by the Byrds) and in due course country rock when country singers went the same way.
The California base of the folk singers and the hippy movement evolved into a laid back drug-fuelled, anti-war, free love culture which peaked at Woodstock in 1969. Then in the 70s the Eagles became the most complete and popular band of all time by melding the driving and/or relaxed rhythms of country, with lyricism and harmony, and with guitar virtuosity.
Certainly, the Eagles peaked after they added guitar maestro Joe Walsh who started life in a the James Gang, a group that copied Cream, but he didn't noticeably play the blues or change the intrinsic qualities of the music.
There is more ...
I thought Louis's singing went out with Sinatra and the other 50s swing singers?
Thanks for your splendid one fingered effort to correct my blue bias.
And yes your points are good. I accept your erudition.
There were lineage and lateral influences. Isolating the two issues was impossible. At the time wannabies heard both.
The lineages - 'the blues' were the 'new' rhythms which led to 'swing'.
The lateral influences - ODJB, Bix, Maybelle, Benny, Dylan, Donegan, Clapton ...
There was a coalescing of the 'new' rhythms into a singularity; Louis Armstrong, who was 'first' to swing the lineage and laterally influenced 'almost' everybody in pop.
After Louis 'popular' singing and instrument playing did not revert to 'bluesless' Gilbert & Sullivan?
Louis Jordan's 'only' claim to fame was to play Rock 'n' Roll before Bill Haley & Elvis.
Rory Gallagher (1948-95) was a skiffler and a Muddy Waters fan. A follower
of fashion. Not an innovator.
Mick Taylor (1949-) was a Clapton look alike from John Mayall and The Rolling Stones.
Al Kooper (1944-) mixed jazz, blues & rock, in 'Blood Sweat & Tears'. Kooper was associated with Bloomfield & Dylan.
Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-90) a 1908s blues rock guitar virtuoso after Jimi Hendricks.
Dave Bartholomew (1918-) New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll Band from 1945 after Louis Jordan.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF POPULAR RECORDED MUSIC -
Jazz originated in the New Orleans area as a swinging syncopated style of playing tunes. The popularity of brass bands and of ragtime piano music suggest some coming together of the two. The freedom of this style permitted its application to all sorts of tunes, such as marches, blues, hymns, and show songs.
Although the new music originated with black and creole musicians, it was a white band, The Original Dixieland Jass Band, which made it first to the recording studio and whose records started the craze for jazz.
The swinging style of New Orleans jazz encouraged dancing and was quickly adopted by the dance orchestras of the day. Traditionally-trained musicians, however, struggled to bring rhythmic freedom to their disciplined style. Paul Whiteman came closest, by hiring high quality jazz musicians like Bix Beiderbecke to add originality to his orchestra’s sound. Still, the self-styled King of Jazz popularized the exciting new music in a ballroom and theatre context and the Jazz Age became synonymous with the Roaring Twenties.
The centres of gravity of the new jazz soon followed the migrations of work-seeking African Americans up river to Chicago and over to New York, and the music continued to develop with it. The close ensemble playing of New Orleans jazz bands was transformed by Louis Armstrong whose swinging rhythm and dominating technique elevated solo playing to an art form that others tried to emulate.
Some orchestra leaders saw the potential to introduce arrangements that allowed musicians to play jazz in a disciplined large band context. Principal among these – and the most successful - were Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson. Ellington carried this orchestral jazz style through to the post-war years with increasing sophistication. Henderson though is credited with creating (with Don Redman) the book of arrangements which became the basis of the riff-based style that was hugely popular in the 1930’s and became known as Big Band Swing. The beneficiary of these arrangements and the leader of this genre was Benny Goodman.
The period of the Second World War saw a transformation in jazz (as too in other musical genres). Touring big bands became too expensive to be profitable in the war years and after. Soloists looked for new ways of playing to bring excitement and enthusiasm back into jazz. The avant garde of the new Modern Jazz movement played a style that was called Bebop, which favoured new rhythms, close harmony, and fast melody lines. The leaders of this change were Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and the centre of innovation was New York.
Among the young musicians attracted to the radical change of style was Miles Davis, who soon pioneered a less frantic, cooler style of playing that became the core of modern jazz. There was room in this for innovative rhythms, new harmonic styles, and still plenty of scope for bebop-inspired solo work.
Davis was also closely involved in a number of the other directions in which modern jazz moved in a search for further innovation. These included modal harmonies, Spanish rhythms, new instrumentation such as electronic keyboards, and jazz-rock fusion experiments.
Some innovators took this to extremes. Ornette Coleman invented free form jazz in which band members could play different rhythms and melody lines but in a group context. John Coltrane took solos to new levels by playing fast sequences of notes but within a more recognizable modern jazz framework.
These new directions have only had the effect of dissipating the energy of jazz. Jazz is still played in all its forms but has largely become frozen in time, that time being the 1960s.
It was always widely believed that Rock ‘n’ Roll was an ephemeral craze and would die when it ran out of steam, and then the world of popular music would return to the normality of ballad singers and songs sung with a swinging full orchestra. In fact that looked likely to come true around 1960 when car and plane crashes killed off some of its biggest stars, but the music provided the basis for popular music for the next 50 years.
Raised on Rock ‘n’ Roll and inspired by the popular black artists on the Tamla Motown label, The Beatles developed from being a quartet of Liverpudlian kids exploring this music in Hamburg to an innovative group who rewrote the history of popular music. They recorded as a band from 1962 to break up in 1970; a short career but a long lasting legacy.
In the course of this journey, The Beatles firmly established the format of rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass guitar, drums as the standard for what became known as beat groups (they didn’t invent this but it was the core of almost all groups that followed). They created a naïve but new harmonic vocal sound. They had more than one lead singer. They started writing their own material of increasing complexity. They experimented with new instruments (eg the sitar) and sound effects to illustrate the lyrics of their songs. In 1967 they created the first major concept album with a gatefold sleeve (not just a collection of hits and other songs), a trend that continued to dominate album compilation throughout the 1970s. This music on this album also was in the forefront of the psychedelic movement of mind-expanding drugs and hippy culture.
Initially, the new Beat Music was known as Merseybeat because of the efflorescence of similar groups coming out of Liverpool. However, this sound was quickly picked up groups from London, Birmingham and Newcastle creating the momentum for what became known as the British Invasion, when The Beatles and others stormed the US hit charts. Prior to this, British performers had achieved essentially nothing in America but this is another legacy that has been long lasting.
The Beatles were renowned for their experimental approach to music and it inspired other bands to do the same. In the UK, this spawned Heavy Metal (loud, riff-driven hard rock), Progressive Rock (expansionary, arty music which relied heavily on classically-influenced instrumental virtuosity), and various more mainstream pop trends such as Glam Rock. In the USA, The Beatles inspired Folk Rock, Country Rock, their own version of heavy metal, and a rock/pop format that was the basis of stadium rock.
Beat Music therefore invented itself into new forms and was otherwise absorbed into mainstream pop forever.
THE CALIFORNIA SOUND
From the mid-1960s until the end of the 70s, musicians and songwriters based in California created a distinctive laid-back popular music sound that was immensely successful and almost exclusively performed by white artists. It really comprised the separate but closely related genres of Folk Rock and Country Rock. In each case, American roots music was transformed by artists inspired by the beat music of The Beatles and by the whole British invasion. Initially there was an overlap with Psychedelic or Hippy Rock, as British beat music began to absorb the culture of mind-expanding drugs, free love, and world peace that became particularly associated with California.
Previously, the so-called Folk Revival and the ensuing Protest Movement led by Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan etc had inspired young people to pick up guitars and sing harmonies in their own groups. Artists such as The Mamas & The Papas, John Sebastian and Jim McGuinn drifted towards California and were in place to form the nucleus for a more up-beat interpretation of folk culture.
Although The Beatles created the excitement of beat music, it was probably their Liverpool rivals, The Searchers, whose use of Rickenbacker guitars and interpretations of Jacky de Shannon songs, led the way into Folk Rock. Within a year or so, Bob Dylan had gone electric and The Byrds had rocked up Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man to launch Folk Rock as a new style.
The momentum behind the music was provided by The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield, and the formation from these in 1969 of Crosby, Stills & Nash just in time to appear at the defining music festival of Woodstock that same year. The addition of Neil Young to CSN and the emergence of The Band, The Grateful Dead, and America extended the genre into the early 1970s but in reality Folk Rock had peaked in 1969.
By 1968, the pioneers, The Byrds, had themselves been moved towards rock interpretations of country songs by new member Gram Parsons, before he started his own Country Rock band, The Flying Burrito Brothers. However, the laid-back folk/country strumming style continued to underpin the new genre.
Buffalo Springfield and Poco had also recorded songs in this style but it was the arrival on the scene of The Eagles that elevated Country Rock to a high level of popularity with their close harmonies, outstanding songs, guitar proficiency, and professionalism. As a measure of their popularity, their compilation album of Country Rock hits became the biggest selling album of the 20th century, but Country Rock was essentially finished by 1980.
In developing their style further with the epic “Hotel California” album and beyond, the Eagles progressed into a more mature Adult-Oriented Rock style and left Country Rock to drift towards what became Country Pop.
Yes, Chris Barber was very influential in introducing American roots music to the UK, arranging tours and giving his banjo player the opportunity to play skiffle in the concert intervals. And yes the early British rock stars pay lip service to their time in skiffle but skiffle didn't lead to rock 'n' roll or the blues. In fact it didn't lead anywhere, it died a death as soon as rock appeared. Suddenly out of nowhere (to us) there was Elvis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino. That's what inspired the Beatles. In parallel, Alexis Korner, the Stones, the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac et al were listening to imported Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf electric blues records.
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