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Who started the Delta blues myth?

GUEST,Joseph Scott 27 May 15 - 05:40 PM
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Subject: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 27 May 15 - 05:40 PM

The title "Who started the Delta blues myth?" is shorthand for the real title of this post, which is "Who is to blame for the myth that we have evidence that blues music originated in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta?"

Short answer: Alan Lomax, it seems. (I found out today that that's a conclusion Vic Hobson and I have both come to independently. So maybe we're both right.) But it's interesting to look at who else has participated in popularizing the myth.

Hobson has written, "[T]he belief that the Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of the blues is so pervasive that we rarely if ever question why this is popularly believed. With the exception of Alan Lomax in the _The Land Where the Blues Began_ (1993) there are few authorities on the blues who have... openly stated this belief...." I don't know who Hobson believes are "authorities on the blues" rather than just writers on the blues whom Hobson personally does not consider "authorities." And Hobson apparently believes that Alan Lomax was an "authority" on blues music (whatever that quite is), a belief that I wouldn't say I share!

In any case, it's fair to say that it is the "blues writers," not their readers, who _are_ to blame for this myth. (Contrast, say, the myth current among many people -- if you read youtube comments, for instance -- that Robert Johnson was one of the earliest blues recording artists. That's an example of a myth for whom "the people" at large trying to share notes with each other _are_ squarely to blame, not "the blues writers," who know about Lemon Jefferson, etc.)


Robert Palmer, the rock writer who decided to write a book about blues -- and it sold and influenced other writers -- wrote that "Blues in the Delta... certainly is the first blues we know much about." That was a FALSE CLAIM when he wrote it. There had been a lot written even before 1935 about blues, some by keen-minded writers such as Newman White. Howard Odum had written about blues he'd heard before 1909, for example (in 1911, and again in the 1920s). Abbe Niles had written articles encouraging educated people to buy records by the likes of Rabbit Brown because they were terrific. George Washington Lee had published the successful book _Beale Street, Where The Blues Began_. Etc. Those writers all had NOT written that blues had a special relationship to the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, because Alan Lomax hadn't started popularizing that myth yet, because it wasn't the 1940s yet (Alan had never even heard of Robert Johnson yet in 1935).

When Palmer published his book
-- Willie Cornish's claim that Buddy Bolden played any blues in Louisiana by the time he stopped playing in 1907 had already been publicized
-- Roy Carew had already written about hearing a different blues in Louisiana in 1906
-- Tichener had recently republished "I Got The Blues" from 1908 by Maggio, of Louisiana (which Maggio had already said was based on a third Louisiana blues)
-- "Joe Turner" was already known to be an early relative of the folk songs about having the "blues" and known to be about events in Tennessee
-- Archie Green had already written in his well-received book that Elbert Bowman had heard blues in Tennessee by 1905
-- Handy had already written in a famous blues book about "blues" he'd heard in Indiana before 1900 and "all over the South" early on
etc.

So Palmer was just being sloppy and playing along with a myth he'd encountered somewhere -- ultimately thanks to Alan Lomax, best we know.


Sam Charters wrote in his 1959 book, "the delta has always been blues country...." Nope. And wrote "[I]f any one place could have given birth to the entire variety and richness of the blues, the delta could have done it." Compared to what a bunch of black Tennesseeans, or a bunch of black Louisianans, or a bunch of black non-Delta Mississippians (such as Crying Sam Collins, who was four years older than Charlie Patton and used a slide, or George Hendrix, who was also older than Patton, and taught Rube Lacy, who taught Son House slide), or a bunch of black Alabamans or Georgians, or... "could" have done? Is is this what we accept as passing for history, telling us what "could" have happened? Ross Russell's claim "Serious writing about the blues began in 1959 with the publication of Samuel Charter's _The Country Blues_" is ridiculous; read Newman White's footnotes before you read Charters. (Charlie Patton expert John Fahey was asked in 1979, "In your studies, did you find anything to dispel the theory that blues began in Mississippi and worked its way up to Memphis...?" "That's Sam Charters' idea, but it depends on your definition....")


Palmer was likely influenced by Giles Oakley's 1976 book, and Oakley was influenced by Charters (and likely by Oliver, see below). Oakley: "[M]any blues historians... are convinced that the blues actually originated [in Mississippi].... One of these writers is Samuel Charters who concludes that, despite the conflicting evidence, 'it was in the Mississippi delta counties that the first blues were sung.' ... By the 1890's there was a greater concentration of black people in Mississippi than in any other part of the country." So what? Is who invented jazz or rock and roll or hip hop going to magically have to do, for our convenience, with whichever state had the most black people in it?


Examples of people in general passing on the myth (or related myths):
"Indications point to MISSISSIPPI as the place where the blues began...." Foreword by Craig Morrison to _Blues_ by Dick Weissman (associate of Gary Davis, Sonny Terry, etc.), 2005.
_Deep Blues_ by Winborn quotes Son House's account of "how the blues began" as if House wasn't five years old at the most when Elbert Bowman heard blues in Tennessee, and makes the claim that "most evidence" points to blues starting in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, which is a false claim.
"The blues style was originated in the early 1900s by African Americans from the Mississippi Delta." -- _Hal Leonard Guitar Method_, 1980.
"He uses a bottleneck to slide over the guitar strings to give a distinctively blues sound. This 'bottleneck style' of guitar playing originated years ago in the backwaters of the Mississippi Delta." -- ad in _Living Blues_ for a film produced by Yale University Films, 1987.
John Giggie has written in a book with "Jim Crow" in the title: "Charles Peabody [in his 1903 article]... offered evidence of blues style of music performed by Delta blacks in Clarksdale, Mississippi." It would be interesting to know which tune(s) in Peabody's article Giggie thinks were "blues" songs and why.
"Howlin' Wolf... grew up in the Delta area where the blues originated." -- Howard DeWitt (author of numerous books), 1985.
Actor Morgan Freeman, usually a virtuously sober thinker, co-owns a blues club in Clarksdale called "Ground Zero" because, according to promotional material, "it all started here." This brings to mind a quote from W.C. Handy about his time living in Clarksdale: "Clarksdale was eighteen miles from the river, but that was no distance for roustabouts. They came in the evenings and on days they were not loading boats. With them they brought the legendary songs of the river." (Handy immediately follows that with an AAB lyric about steamboats.)
"This is the state where the musical style known as the blues began." _Mississippi_ by Rich Smith, 2010.
"Despite its proximity to the Mississippi Delta, where the blues began, New Orleans never..." _New Orleans_ by Downs and Edge, 2003.
"... Mississippi... is... the land where the blues began." Book by David Yaffe about Bob Dylan.
Etc.


Let's look at an attempt at a weaker claim (obviously motivated by the fact that the writer was working on a book with "Delta" in its title): Ted Gioia, who is primarily known for his books about jazz, wrote in his 2009 blues book, "the Delta's claim as [the blues'] birthplace is as strong as any other region's." Oh, is it, if Emmet Kennedy, Willie Cornish, and Antonio Maggio all said they had (independently) encountered three blues tunes in Louisiana before 1908?


Is Paul Oliver capable of doing pretty much the same sorts of things we just saw Gioia and Oakley do? Oliver: "Though its reputation is not unassailable, Mississippi has had the most advocates[*] as the source of the blues. Undoubtably the origins of the blues are far more complex but the 'Mississippi Blues' remains axiomatic as the essence of blues feeling...." There's no evidence at all that blues music originated in Mississippi -- but look at this shiny object over here, the "axiomatic" (as if any of our subjective tastes regarding Hacksaw Harney, Charlie Patton, Bill Gillum, Charley Jordan, Crying Sam Collins, John Hurt, John Estes, Peg Leg Howell, etc. really has anything to with the concept of the "axiom")?

*Argumentum ad populum fallacy. If Oliver knew of evidence that _he_ considered reliable (and plenty of other times he has shown interest in working from evidence he knew of himself), he could just present that evidence rather than handwave about what others had claimed.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 27 May 15 - 05:45 PM

"as if House wasn't five years old at the most when Elbert Bowman heard blues in Tennessee"

This should read "three years old at the most."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Wesley S
Date: 27 May 15 - 05:45 PM

Where was this article cut and pasted from?

Or are you saying you wrote it yourself?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 27 May 15 - 05:53 PM

I wrote that myself today.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 15 - 06:08 PM

The way I heard it was not that the Delta was the only source of the blues, but that it was the first source that caught the attention of mainstream culture, when rural singers from the Delta started moving into New Orleans in large numbers to work on the docks. Once it got their attention, people looked around and found there was a lot more of that kind of music and in a lot of locations.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 May 15 - 06:10 PM

It would be rather easier to follow what you're saying if you stated your own ideas about how blues started and relegated the refutations of other theories to footnotes. As you're presenting it, it's not easy to see the point.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 27 May 15 - 06:44 PM

No worse organized than what I write.

And Joe's point is clear: there's no more evidence to attribute the "birth of the blues" to the Mississippi Delta than to places as far afield as Indiana and Tennessee.

In fact, whatever the truth may be, there seems to be little enough evidence (as distinct from assertion) to locate the birthplace of the blues in any region narrower than the American South and the Ohio Valley.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 27 May 15 - 07:25 PM

The post is about trying to figure out who popularized a particular myth, the myth that we have evidence that blues music started in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. And, basically, it seems that Alan Lomax did, starting in the 1940s and 1950s, and still actively in the 1980s and 1990s, but he had plenty of help from others.

Writers since roughly Charters 1959, while discussing blues origins, have often remembered to throw the Yazoo/Mississippi Delta a bone, choosing to throw that bone illogically rather than not throw it at all (Charters, Oliver, Palmer, Oakley, Gioia), because none of them could do so logically, because they had no actual evidence that blues music started in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. And, given when they were writing, it apparently only occurred to them to do throw that bone _at all_ (rather than throw that same bone to Alabama or wherever) because Alan Lomax had already popularized the idea that early blues music had a special relationship to the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, an idea Alan couldn't support with evidence either, but liked the sound of as of about 1947, and as of about 1993.

In contrast, early writers interested in blues all bear the signs of not being influenced by or independently hitting on the same idea there as Alan did.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 27 May 15 - 07:52 PM

This could be interesting.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 27 May 15 - 08:05 PM

"The way I heard it was not that the Delta was the only source of the blues, but that it was the first source that caught the attention of mainstream culture, when rural singers from the Delta started moving into New Orleans in large numbers to work on the docks."

The familiar myth that blues moved from the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta to New Orleans at some point was apparently based on the preexisting myth that we ought to think blues was in the Delta particularly early relative to e.g. Louisiana, for no reason anyone can actually give.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Stanron
Date: 27 May 15 - 09:32 PM

Is this a straw man incident? You set up a false premise and demolished it with vigour. Why?

If, as I have always supposed, that blues was an amalgam of remembered African cultural heritage and taught western hymnal stuff on plantations, then blues will have originated wherever there were plantations.

Before the start of the 20th century the only records of this will be in written material. Letters from people who visited plantations and heard music being played, maybe travelling ministers keeping personal records or diaries kept by literate people who lived nearby.

The first slaves were in America in the 17th Century. I would expect that the music we now call Blues has been brewing ever since then.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 15 - 09:59 PM

And the recently deceased Mr. B.B. King....

falls within what area of your Delta Blues scale?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 27 May 15 - 11:43 PM

At risk of causing widespread depression, should we not first ask "What is Blues"?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 28 May 15 - 01:59 AM

At the top of this Mississippi Delta map is the city of Memphis, 181 miles north of Yazoo City, Mississippi. Seems to me, that one could easily say that Memphis is the "Gateway to the Mississippi Delta." The map delineates a relatively small area of Northwestern Mississippi as "the Delta," but I think many people rightly think of "the Delta" as extending from Memphis down into Louisiana - I think that would be an apt definition of the Delta as a cultural area. I worked much of that area as a federal election observer in the 1980s. It's beautiful country and the people and the food are wonderful - but the whole area feels like it's The Delta, not just that one corner of Mississippi. Can't say I had time for music then, though. I was working 16-hour days.

But nonetheless, it's an interesting article, Joseph. I just think you define the Delta a bit too rigidly.

-Joe-

P.S. to Joseph: If you'd like to be a member of Mudcat, we'd love to have you. Just send me an email at joe@mudcat.org


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Mr Red
Date: 28 May 15 - 04:20 AM

Well!
& I always thought of "Delta Blues Music" as a style.

Methinks this comes under the same banner as "What is Folk Music?".

As the original editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, James Murray (1837-1915), said of language (apt here) it has a firm centre, with certainty stretching a distance therefrom but a periphery increasingly vague & ill defined. Or he might have opined "a circumference defined by the listener".

FWIW IMNSHO Leadbelly was Folk-Delta Blues, Muddy Waters played Blues, and not "Folk".

As for perpetrating a myth. History is made by the winners, and the Lomax's did a lot of winning. When few others were.

Labels are one way language communicates. It gives you something to argue about at least.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil
Date: 28 May 15 - 05:35 AM

"The first slaves were in America in the 17th Century." is just another myth as well.

The first slaves to make the Atlantic crossing to North America were most likely Irish. They began arriving in the late 10th century and remained in the general area of the Davis Strait and Labrador Sea for the next four hundred+ years or until just a century or so before Columbus.

They were called thralls by the their Norwegian and Icelandic masters. They (almost certainly) had the blues but no music remains, so... nevermind.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 28 May 15 - 06:04 AM

Phil, I would think its quite likely that slaves were brought across the Bering Strait as long as 25,000 years ago.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,gillymor
Date: 28 May 15 - 08:22 AM

Joe Offer, I seem to recall that the locals referred to the Yazoo River basin as the "Delta" back in Charley Patton's day. I probably read that in Steve Calt's and Gayle Dean Wardlow's biography of Patton.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 May 15 - 09:13 AM

Mike Yates wrote an article - Blues Jumped a Rabbit - a couple of years back, which deconstructs the Lomax idea that the Blues began in the Delta. You can read it online at www.mustrad.org.uk


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 28 May 15 - 10:34 AM

From the OP "Who is to blame for the myth that we have evidence that blues music originated in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta?"

I have been interested in music all my life, and this is the first time I have heard this idea. Actually, the blues began in a lot of places as musicians picked up the musical concepts, shared and enlarged them.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 12:36 PM

Stanron wrote: "You set up a false premise..." No, I gave "Examples of people in general passing on the myth" in that post.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 12:42 PM

"And the recently deceased Mr. B.B. King.... falls within what area of your Delta Blues scale?" I don't understand what relevance you think B.B. has to this thread.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 12:54 PM

Richard wrote: "should we not first ask 'What is Blues'?"

The black folk songs that had the word "blues" in them as of about 1909, the existence of which caused anyone to start talking about "blues songs," in about 1909, were apparently generally first-person sad songs with repetitive lyrics within the stanza, and chord progressions similar to I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-V-I-I or I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-V-I-I, rather than the quite different chord progressions found in countless black folk songs of the era. Songs with those characteristics that were reported to predate 1909 include "Got No More Home Than A Dog," the "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home" family, and the "K.C. Moan" family.

For anyone who wants to define "blues music" broadly, to include the likes of "John Henry"... we don't have evidence that that broadly defined "blues music" started in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta either.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 01:16 PM

"down into Louisiana" The map you linked to shows the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta aka "Mississippi Delta" ("the distinctive northwest section of Mississippi between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers") as ending about 25 miles from Memphis (and not including e.g. Plum Point, Mississippi, where Memphis bluesman Jim Jackson was reportedly born, or Hernando, Mississippi, where Memphis bluesman Robert Wilkins was born) and being immediately on the other side of the Mississippi River from part of Arkansas and part of Louisiana (ending about 200 miles from New Orleans).


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 01:33 PM

"I always thought of 'Delta Blues Music' as a style." Son House learned slide from Rube Lacy, who had learned slide outside the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta; Robert Johnson learned to play guitar well from Ike Zimmerman, who wasn't from that Delta, and emulated the records of Kokomo Arnold, who wasn't either; Hacksaw Harney in that Delta played the way he did; Crying Sam Collins outside that Delta played the way he did; "Mississippi" Fred McDowell learned to play guitar in Tennessee not knowing anyone would later care whether he ever lived in that Delta; Chicago welcomed Tampa Red and John Lee Williamson to the blues fraternity; etc. because the '20s-'30s blues musicians hadn't got the memo about what Alan Lomax would imagine in the '40s any more than the '20s-'30s blues writers had.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 01:36 PM

"... Leadbelly was Folk-Delta Blues..." What does the "Delta" mean there?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 May 15 - 01:50 PM

Speaking of John Henry, it was long asserted as fact that he raced the stream drill at the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia in the 1870s.

Mudcatter John Garst has recently shown, on the basis of extensive new research and re-evaluation of the evidence, just how unlikely that claim really is.

Many songs, including "John Henry," can be called "blues" in the broadest sense if they include "blue notes."

But the "blues" proper also have the three-line stanza form that Joe describes.

Though rare elsewhere, the form is not unknown in Anglo-American folksong, particularly in the South. I'm thinking especially of Dillard Chandler's "The Sailor Being Tired":

www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrVr5TpkfWE

Maybe he got it from Afro- rather than Anglo-American tradition, but the question of just how the form originated remains open.

Chandler's song, however, has no blue notes and is unlikely to be considered a "blues."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: meself
Date: 28 May 15 - 02:23 PM

'Blues' ain't nothin' but a good gal on your mind, according to at least one authority (forget who, though).


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 02:33 PM

"Mike Yates wrote an article - Blues Jumped a Rabbit - a couple of years back, which deconstructs the Lomax idea that the Blues began in the Delta."

Or expresses healthy skepticism about it, anyway. Anyone who wants to deconstruct that idea shouldn't bring up the Tutwiler musician (_Father Of The Blues_ p. 74) while not bringing up the similar, years earlier, and more clearly mournful "Got No More Home Than A Dog" (_Father Of The Blues_ p. 142).

Patton's friend Booker Miller recalled Patton telling him that he began playing guitar when he was about 19, which would be in about 1910.

Yates' "We don't know what the [Tutwiler] singer was singing" is inaccurate.

Handy's _Father Of The Blues_ does not claim he heard the Tutwiler musician as early as "1903." Norm Cohen's research has suggested that the individual lyric "Going where the Southern cross the Dog," sung by anyone, logically should probably -- not necessarily in what we'd call a blues song -- predate 1903, because of when various railroad lines were built.

What Yates calls "Rag Ditties" were widely known to black musicians of the times as "reels."

Henry Thomas's "Lovin' Babe" is a variant of the "All Out And Down" that was known to Freeman Stowers, Mance Lipscomb, etc.

Spottswood's theory that blues began in the Piedmont is based on the existence of songs in the Piedmont that were also well known outside the Piedmont.

Black musicians of about 1911 apparently didn't share Spottswood's perception of the 12-bar blues (with e.g. AAB lyrics) as somehow especially "blues" relative to the 16-bar blues (with e.g. AAAB lyrics). Handy popularized the use of 12 bars in blues relative to 16 bars in blues a lot starting in about 1914.

Yates' mention of Max Haynes's article (which is very valuable) is misleading. If Jim Jackson knew both "I'm A Bad Bad Man" and blues songs, and Blind Blake knew both "Champagne Charlie" and blues songs, that does not somehow mean that "I'm A Bad Bad Man" or "Champagne Charlie" was a blues song.

When does Wardlow think Lem Nichols began playing Pearlee?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 02:47 PM

"Many songs, including 'John Henry,' can be called 'blues' in the broadest sense if they include 'blue notes.'" Black musicians about Frank Stokes' age did not use "blues" to refer to anything with a bent note in it, or even close, and there is no evidence that any black musician used the expression "blue note" about the earliest blues music. (White writers of the 1910s did.)

Blues with four-line stanzas appear in Howard Odum's pre-1909 material, four-line stanzas are common in the blues song families that can actually be traced to before about 1910, and blues with four-line stanzas were known to the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, Rev. Gary Davis, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Furry Lewis, Peg Leg Howell, Skip James, William Moore, Henry Thomas, Jesse Fuller, Charley Jordan, etc.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 02:51 PM

Some Child ballads have AAB lyrics in Child. Jess Morris heard AAB from the black singer Charley Willis (born 1847) in "Old Paint" before 1900.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 28 May 15 - 02:52 PM

"there is no evidence that any black musician used the expression 'blue note' about the earliest blues music" At the time, I mean.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 May 15 - 02:55 PM

"At the time, I mean." Although it would be interesting to try to find examples of blues musicians about Mance Lipscomb's age bringing up the concept of the "blue note" in interviews even in about the 1960s.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 28 May 15 - 07:30 PM

So, Joseph, if the Blues did not begin in the Delta, where did it begin - Arizona? Las Vegas? Boston?

And what do you define as the Delta? Certainly, one legitimate geographical definition is the northwest corner of Mississippi, between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, with Greenwood and Yazoo City at the approximate center. That seems to be what you consider to be the Delta. Yazoo City, by the way, is one of the most miserable towns I have ever seen. I hope it has cleaned up since I last saw it in 1985.

But as a socio-economic-cultural area, the Delta is much, much larger. I'd venture to say that from that point of view, the Delta extends from Cairo, Illinois, to New Orleans and even farther south - and perhaps up to 200 miles wide in places. The terrain, vegetation, industry, people, language, customs, and culture are interrelated throughout that entire area. It's a wonderful area to explore - stay off the Interstate and drive the two-lane roads and get out and walk when you get to towns. Go to cheap restaurants and taverns, and seek out people to talk to.

Have you ever been there?

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 May 15 - 08:05 PM

That Yates article (http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/blues.htm) makes what seems to me an extraordinary statement about blues origins and the concept of the blue note, but without footnoting it or even mentioning where he got the idea. He makes it sound as if it's common knowledge. Am I just not in the loop on this? Here's the statement:

African slaves, it seemed, had taken their own musical scales to the Americas. These were different from Western scales, and when the two scales met there were sound clashes, which produced so-called 'blue' notes.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Stanron
Date: 28 May 15 - 08:35 PM

Here's an article about African music. The author discusses how African scales differ from European and American conventions.

EXPLORING AFRICAN TONE SCALES


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: pattyClink
Date: 28 May 15 - 09:41 PM

Let's clarify the area that we call The Delta. I'm a geologist who has spent years mapping and dealing with water and topographic issues in that area so I'm claiming authority on this point.   On the map Offer linked, the boundary of the Delta is in fact the green line. On the right the line exactly follows the low 'bluffline' which is the edge of the flat alluvial plain. And of course on the left, the boundary is the Mississippi River.   

The citation text on that map has used unfortunate and incorrect wording 'the land between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers', this is not correct. Other smaller subbasins are included and the boundary of the Delta is not the Yazoo but the bluffline.

So Memphis is right at the north tip of the Delta plain, though most of town sits up above the bluffline. Same deal with Vicksburg, it is a bluff town which overlooks the point where the Mississippi, the Yazoo, and the bluffline converge to form the southern 'point' of the Delta.   As the author said, the Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 28 May 15 - 10:29 PM

So, Patty, the blues stops right there at the bluffs?

Seems to me, that music genres are more likely to come from socio-economic-cultural regions, rather than specified geographic or geological areas. Oceans form rather distinct borders of cultural areas, but not river bluffs.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 29 May 15 - 12:19 AM

Very interesting! But why is that area called the Delta? It's not shaped like the Greek letter delta, and it's not a river delta.

I always assumed that when people spoke of the Delta or the Mississippi Delta they were speaking of the Mississippi River delta.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 May 15 - 12:43 AM

...and I thought it was both of 'em together, starting at Cairo and going all the way south. Driving the area, that seems to be the case. It's all low-lying wetlands.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 29 May 15 - 05:55 AM

Re Joe Offer above;

Joe the last time I was in Yazoo City compared to when I was there in 1976 it was looking great down town, nice old shop fronts and advertising signs all looking very spruced up and interesting. Then I noticed a number of builders and decorators everywhere painting and then giving an "antiqueing process" to it all plus the shop fronts were facades placed temporarily over the existing ones. Result the backdrop for some scenes in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou".

The posting from Patty Clink above is surely irrelevant here for the reasons you have stated.

I tend to agree with you re the socio-economic-cultural area. But among those of us "blues collectors" for want of a better description The Missisippi Delta is understood to be that area up in the north west corner.

You ask the original poster if he has ever been to the Delta. I get the feeling that he hasn't met many blues musicians either. Taking a guess from his postings I doubt if he has ever left the reading room of his public library but I could be wrong. He seems to enjoy making lists of names. Perhaps he will clarify things by informing us what his qualifications and experience are. I don't ever recall coming across his name anywhere in my years of collecting, listening and reading.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 29 May 15 - 11:43 AM

The relevant question isn't geological terminology, it's what non-geologist commentators on the blues mean when they say "Mississippi Delta."

As a layman, my perception (and that's all it is) is that what Alan Lomax and others called "the Delta" was restricted to southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi, much as Guest suggests. In that case, if the blues began in Memphis, for example, Lomax would be in error.

Did Lomax ever define the area he called "the Delta"? (I suspect that if he'd meant the geological "Mississippi Delta," he'd have said something plainer, like "the banks of the Mississippi from the Ohio down." Did he? A "delta" is usually taken to mean the area where a river obviously diverges in a delta-like pattern close to its mouth.

There seems to be inevitable confusion between the technical "Mississippi Delta" and the easily understood "Mississippi River Delta."

I don't know Joseph Scott, but I do know an ad hominem argument when I see one. The issue is the comparative reliability of the cited sources. If you have reason to doubt his conclusions, go back to the sources and show why he's wrong.

It seems rather obvious that given the early obscurity of the blues among writers, and the inability of anyone in the 1920s to carry out extensive ethnomusicological studies across the South - or anywhere - any claims about where the blues began must have been based on limited evidence and mere impressions.

Even W. C. Handy's testimony, while extremely valuable, is inconclusive. When he heard the blues in Indiana for the first time, they might already have been common in Florida, or Oklahoma, St. Louis, or (even) Louisiana. Who knows? Nobody was looking for them.

Questions about place of origin of folk-music characteristic are generally unanswerable in any detail. The historical information is rarely sufficient.

The farther back you go before the first known mention, however, the less likely the phenomenon is to have existed. I think that saying the blues seem to have existed in parts of the South some years before the First World War, almost solely among African Americans, is about as far as one can go.

It would be interesting to know who first commented on "blue notes," however they might have been described, and when. The Oxford English dictionary's earliest example of the sense we mean is from so late as 1915, suggesting the influence of Handy's compositions. Earlier than that it simply meant "an incorrect or off-pitch note."

So it's easy to see how the secondary sense of the word developed - from a theoretically "wrong" note to a perfectly acceptable one.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 29 May 15 - 11:56 AM

Two more points.

As I understand Scott's argument, it's not that the blues *did not* or *could not have* originated in "the Delta," only that the evidence for the claim is not very strong, even if it has been repeated so often as to be taken as fact.

Also, it seems likely that in the days before radio and blues recordings," an innovation in musical style like the blues must have taken some time to circulate over a wide area.

Here's a contrary suggestion: Did the success of "Memphis Blues" trigger a blues-making craze?

It certainly mainstreamed the style in an unprecedented way.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 29 May 15 - 12:52 PM

I am not saying that the guy is wrong and am not looking for an argument. I don't quite own all the sources which he quotes and don't have the time or interest in pinpointing when and where a particular chord sequence was used or who first used the term blues. We will never know for sure it's all so long ago.
As I stated above the region generally referred to among non-laymen blues followers as the Delta in Mississippi is that north west corner, some people would also include that part of Arkansas just across the bridge.

As a non-American I am surprised to hear that the geological Mississippi Delta starts in Ohio. But I am more interested in music than geology.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 29 May 15 - 01:04 PM

quote: Earlier than that it simply meant "an incorrect or off-pitch note." So it's easy to see how the secondary sense of the word developed - from a theoretically "wrong" note to a perfectly acceptable one.

Lighter: In another thread (Earliest jazzers how blues-interested?), Joseph Scott argued against that, because the earliest evidence of the use of the expression "blue note" is from several years after the earliest evidence of the idea of "blues" music.

I'm not convinced. I think a slang term can exist for a long time before it appears in print, especially if it describes part of a musical form practiced by a rural culture of a poor and oppressed minority, a form that hadn't yet come to the attention of the mainstream. And I think it's more plausible that the term "blue note" came first. It sounds like you agree. If so, do you have any evidence?

The Yates article also seems to agree with that order, suggesting that the blue note was something from an African scale that didn't appear to fit into the European scale, i.e. not a blue note simply because it was used in the blues style.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 29 May 15 - 01:20 PM

To be fair I should point out that the O.E.D. agrees with Scott:
Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of the playing or singing of the BLUES. So blue note: a minor interval occurring where a major would be expected; an off-pitch note.

Of course they too would be basing it solely on published works.

I think the O.E.D. mentioned that "blue" has also been used in place of "black" to describe people whose skin is brown, though I think the only instances they cited were in the mid 20th century. If it occurred much earlier it might be grounds for calling a note from an African scale a blue note.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: pattyClink
Date: 29 May 15 - 01:45 PM

I was just trying to clarify what people mean when they say "The Delta" because an earlier description wasn't on point.

No, of course the music doesn't stop at the bluffline. But the alluvial plain is a special place because of its geography and fertility, and that influenced its demographics, and that influenced the music.   It is 5 million acres of rich flat land that required massive amounts of human labor to farm. Most of that labor was African American. If you look at old aerials of it, you can see that about every 10 acres was a house where a tenant farmer lived, because it took a family for about every 10 acres. Never mind men to work the mills, clear the timber, and build the levees.

There are lots of small towns, and a few cities including Greenville and Memphis and Greenwood, and back in the day there were lots of juke joints and houses that sponsored music on weekend nights, and there developed a culture of musicians gathering locally, and as they got more professional, traveling around to other towns. This is the scene described by David Honeyboy Edwards in his book.

Certainly similar things were going on on the Arkansas and Louisiana side and in spots up in hill towns, but I think there was a dense concentration of people and talent here that of course Lomax thought was the central cradle of the music.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 29 May 15 - 03:14 PM

"So, Joseph, if the Blues did not begin in the Delta, where did it begin" Quoting Lighter, "there seems to be little enough evidence (as distinct from assertion) to locate the birthplace of the blues in any region narrower than the American South and the Ohio Valley."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 29 May 15 - 03:16 PM

"Seems to me, that music genres are more likely to come from socio-economic-cultural regions, rather than specified geographic or geological areas." Of course, but Alan Lomax didn't bother himself with such logic.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 29 May 15 - 03:19 PM

"The posting from Patty Clink above is surely irrelevant here for the reasons you have stated." No, it's exactly relevant to Alan Lomax's choice to starting throwing the words "Delta blues" around in the 1940s as if they meant something special, when black and white musicians and listeners had not seen reason to do so in earlier decades.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 29 May 15 - 03:26 PM

Hootenanny, if you think my posts about blues music contain errors of fact, your time would be better spent pointing them out than speculating about where I spend my time.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 29 May 15 - 03:28 PM

pattyClink: Any idea why it's called the Delta when it begins 600 miles upstream of the mouth? Even if it extends all the way to the Gulf, as Joe suggested, it's still a far cry from what is normally called a delta. Were the people there so isolated and ill-informed that they thought they were living on a river delta?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 29 May 15 - 03:32 PM

"It seems rather obvious that given the early obscurity of the blues among writers, and the inability of anyone in the 1920s to carry out extensive ethnomusicological studies across the South - or anywhere" Well, I think what people like Newman White, Howard Odum, Thomas Talley, E.C. Perrow, Abbe Niles, Dorothy Scarborough, Charles Peabody, and Gates Thomas did before 1930 is generally overlooked and underrated these days by blues fans.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 May 15 - 03:33 PM

Joseph, don't take offense. You worked hard on your piece, and you brought up some interesting points for discussion. That's what it's all about. We're all here in this world to learn and to share ideas.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 29 May 15 - 04:41 PM

> I think what people like Newman White, Howard Odum, Thomas Talley, E.C. Perrow, Abbe Niles, Dorothy Scarborough, Charles Peabody, and Gates Thomas did before 1930 is generally overlooked and underrated these days by blues fans.

All very true, but they couldn't be everywhere. But I acknowledge that I haven't studied these sources, and their import may be stronger than I think.

As for "blues" and "blue note," there really is no way of knowing for sure which came first. But if "blue note" in the relevant sense is first *known* to appear in 1915, and in an earlier sense 20 years before, all we can say is that, on the basis (again) of limited evidence, the "wrong note" sense appears to be prior to the "note typical of African-American blues" sense.

But perhaps "the blues" have nothing to do with blue notes. Since people have *had* "the blues" since the mid-18th century (see OED), some might have been "singing" "their blues" a century later, even if that simply meant singing sad, first-person songs (say, "Old Smoky") with or without "blue notes," AAB form, etc.

Of course, there's no evidence for an 18th or 19th century of "sing the blues." But since people who might have been saying it didn't leave written records, there's simply no telling.

Of course, such a usage would have nothing to do with the evolution of the blues or with the use of "blue notes." It's simply that the terminology can add to the uncertainty.

What we really need is a description of the blues written before 1912. But even that would be unlikely to tell us where the blues actually originated.

Clearly Lomax had reason to believe it really was the "Mississippi Delta." But he didn't arrive on the scene till the 1930s. Do we know exactly why he was so confident? Mississippi River traffic is certainly a plausible method of the music's transmission, but it could have spread either up from Louisiana, down from the Ohio River, or both ways from Memphis.

Just thinking out loud.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 29 May 15 - 05:25 PM

Lighter: Same here. Just thinking out loud. No way to ever prove anything, but it's fun to speculate. Folk etymology. (I hope that won't incite tirades about the 1954 definition of folk etymology)

I'm really interested in one thing you said:
But if "blue note" in the relevant sense is first *known* to appear in 1915, and in an earlier sense 20 years before...
Where did that latter information come from? And what was the earlier meaning of "blue note"?

With regard to "singing the blues": As a folk etymologist, I'm concerned with plausibility. It seems plausible to me that "singing the blues" and "crying the blues" could have been popular expressions before there was any music called blues, even if there's no written record of it. But that can't be said of "playing the blues." And a lot of the first compositions calling themselves blues were instrumental pieces that sounded more like ragtime than the moaning and complaining music we now think of as blues. It doesn't seem likely that those would have been called blues because of the connection blue=sad. Sad lyrics were in some cases added much later, but that could have been after a blue=sad connection had been tacked on. Perhaps there was earlier folk music that was sad and was called blues for that reason, and Handy and other early composers took something from that style but not the sadness, and also took the name that those folk musicians applied to their own music; but I haven't seen any evidence of that.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 29 May 15 - 06:40 PM

Joseph,
Please read the first nine words of my post above.

If you are unable to understand the meaning of those I wonder how you can understand the reading material that you endlessly quote.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil
Date: 29 May 15 - 09:55 PM

I think the current myth is this thread has an identifiable and/or measurable subject. Myth-delta-blues or what?

Myth?
The thread title says we were done before we started.

Delta?
Why bother with any other definition than Lomax's? And then ignore it. Three great circus/minstrelsy producing dynasties of the 19th century, Rice, Robinson and Stickney all kept one foot in Cincinnati and the other in New Orleans. Why (other than Alan Lomax's personal outlook on life) would any one section of the river between be culturally isolated from any other during those decades of touring?

Blues?
It's not a static definition and revisions are both retrospective and obsolescent even as they are made.
"A blue note is a sour note....It's a discord-a harmonic discord. The blues are never written into music, but are interpolated by the piano player or other players. They aren't new. They are just reborn into popularity. They started in the south half a century ago and are the interpolations of darkies originally. The trade name for them is "jazz."
Gordon Seagrove, Chicago Tribune, 11 July 1915.

Joe: "Have you ever been there?"
Hoot: "...I doubt if he has ever left the reading room of his public library.... Perhaps he will clarify things by informing us what his qualifications and experience are. I don't ever recall coming across his name anywhere in my years of collecting, listening and reading."
Joe: "Joseph, don't take offense."
Me: [face palm]

It ain't the blues but I lived in the islands longer than the Lomax and Charters Bahamian summer vacations combined (200x.) As far as my family history goes it's not even close. Lomax produced a complete fabrication of static cultural isolation where none existed in the least. (My father honeymooned his 1st wife on Cat Cay the year before Lomax's so-called discoveries.)

The recently departed 'expert' Charters spent pretty much the entire summer of '58 behaving like a Mudcat troll. A real cool jerk and proud of it too. Zero respect for local customs and manners on both islands, NP & Andros.

I can think of no reason why the same 'methodology' applied to the elsewhere would produce better results. Keep the 'blues' recordings, as curios only. Bin the liner notes, books and 'facts' for the great steaming pile-o-drek they are.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 29 May 15 - 10:15 PM

OED online:

1895   Kansas City Times 10 Dec. 4/4   At the beginning of their career..they found difficulty in keeping their instruments out of ear-splitting mischief. In the language of the 'profesor' they struck many a 'blue' note.

1908   K. McGaffey Sorrows of Show Girl xiii. 157   He being a nervous party springs a blue note that got the musical director hysterical.

You're quite right about "playing the blues."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 29 May 15 - 11:32 PM

Thank you, Phil, for that quote from the Chicago Tribune! The article was cited by a guest in Joseph Scott's previous thread, but I didn't pay attention to it because the part that was quoted there didn't sound interesting. In fact, you have to read the whole article to understand it, and even then it takes some time because of the writer's jazzed-up writing style. It's a string of quotes the author heard in a night club.

It's also the first known (i.e. first published example that anyone has been able to find recently) use of the word "jazz" to refer to music. So it may not use that word in the same way we do. And it was written at a time when what was called "blues" was a new and very popular instrumental music sounding similar to ragtime but with some variations, including the use of blue notes. Much of it may not qualify as blues by today's definition, but clearly the instrumental pieces that included the word "blues" in the title then were using a very different definition. The word "jazz" at that early stage was also closely associated with the use of blue notes, as the article points out, so the people quoted in the article can be forgiven for confusing the two forms, if indeed they were then two different forms in the same way that they are today.

My favorite part is when the pianist who had been playing what the people in the club called both "blues" and "jazz" said the line that Phil quoted -- that a "blue note" is a sour note, a harmonic discord. And then in the next quoted sentence he went on to use the term "the blues" to mean "the blue notes."

The article is posted as a PDF file at:
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ve
I'm going to try to post the entire two-page text here, which I think is permissible given the 1915 publication date. You really have to read the whole thing to understand it, and it's a document that should be preserved in any way possible.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Gordon Seagrove
Date: 29 May 15 - 11:33 PM

Seagrove, Gordon, Chicago Sunday Tribune, July 11, 1915.

Blues is Jazz and Jazz Is Blues

    She leaned across the table while the waiter slunk away and in a pleading voice said something to the Worm. The Worm was her husband. You may have guessed this before.
Anyway what she said was this:
   "Ortus," she murmured, looking into his tired eyes, "if you don't fox trot with me shortly, I shall bring suit for divorce. Our life cannot go on this way."
   "Don't I give you clothes – all you want?" the Worm returneed [sic]. "Huh? Don't I now? Don't I love –you —"
    "Stop!" she cried, deathly white. "You don't understand me.   Clothes – bah –! Coverings for the skin! –Love – a mockery! You do not realize that I have a shoul – that I have two feet – that I want fox trotting."
   "You know I can't dance. Why last wee –"
    "Enough!" she cried imperiously drawing a veil over her snow white shoulders which always appear in scenes like this. "You may consult my attorney tomorrow. You have failed me in the fox trot – I cannot go on –"
   She stopped. Te music had started. Suddenly from above the thread of the melody itself came, a harmonious, yet discordant wailing, an eerie mezzo that moaned and groaned and sighed and electrified, a haunting counter strain that oozed from the saxaphone.
   The Worm stopped. His eyes shone with a wonderful light – the light that lies in the eyes of a man who has had two around the corner. His mouth moved convulsively. The years fell away from his shoulders leaving only his frock coat.
    The Worm had turned – turned to fox trotting. And the "blues" had done it. The "jazz" had put pep into the legs that had scrambled too long for the 5:15.
   What mattered to him now the sly smiles of contempt that his friends had uncorked when he essayed the foxy trot a month before: what mattered it whose shins he kicked?
   That was what "blue" music had done for him.
    That is what "blue" music is doing for everybody – taking away what its name implies, the blues. In a few months it has become the predominant motif in cabaret offerings; its wailing syncopation i heard in every gin mill where dancing holds sway.
   Its effect is galvanic. Cripples take up their beds and one-step; taxi drivers willing suffer sore feet because of it; string halt become St. Vitus' dance in its grip.
   Maybe you, poor sol, in your metropolitan ignorance,, do not gather just what the "blues" are. Worry not; neither does the average person that plays them, and it was only after weks [sic] of toiling that the true definition was obtained.
    The first sortie after the definition was made in a song publisher's arena, where beautiful actresses try their voices and the manager's nerves.
   "Halt," cried the seeker after the definition, "fixing a dark haired piano player with a relentless eye. "What are the blues?"
    The young man recoiled and shuddered. "I don't know," he said. "All I can do is play 'em. A kind of a wail you might call it. Still I couldn't tell you positively. But, say! I can take any piece in the world and put the blues into it. But as for a definition – don't ask me."
   At the next place a young woman was keeping "Der Wacht Am Rhein" and "Tipperary Mary" apart when the interrogator entered.
   "What are the blues?" he asked gently. "Jazz!" The young woman's voice rose high to drown the piano.
   A tall young man with nimble fingers rose from the piano and came over. "That's me," he said. And then he unraveled the mystery of "the blues."
   "A blue note is a sour note," he explained. "It's a discord – a harmonic discord. The blues are never written into music, but are interpolated by the piano player or other players. They aren't new. They are just reborn into popularity. They started in the south half a century ago and are the interpolations of darkies originally. The trade name for them is "jazz."
    "There's a craze for them now.   People find them excellent for dancing. Piano players are taking lessons to learn how to play them."
   Thereupon "Jazz" Marion sat down and shoed the bluest streak of blues ever heard beneath the blue. Or, if you like this better: "Blue" Marion sat down and jazzed the jazziest streak of jazz ever.
   Saxophone players since the advent of the "jazz blues" have taken to wearing "jazz collars," neat decollete things that give the throat and windpipe full play, so that the notes that issue from the tubas may not suffer for want of blues – those wonderful blues.
   Try it some time – for that tired feeling – the blues.

There are two drawings, the first of an African-American saxophonist with "Wooo- ooo-ooo! emanating from the bell, captioned "A BLUE NOTE IS A SOUR NOTE." The second shows "The Worm" and his wife at the table. He cups his ear. "THE YEARS FELL AWAY FROM HIS SHOULDERS."

The article is in the first column of the last page of the eight-page entertainment section (Section VIII) of the Chicago Sunday Tribune for July 11, 1915.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 30 May 15 - 12:29 AM

And thank you doubly, Lighter, for the two quotes using the term "blue note" in 1895 and 1908! Neither of them appears to have anything to do with blues music. You and Phil have shown that Mudcat is a haven for true scholars, and not just a place for people to trade insults over their views on gay marriage. And thank you, Joseph Scott, for starting these fascinating threads and for keeping them high-brow with your very rigorous research on the subjects.

Lighter's 1908 quote is posted at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10508/pg10508.txt
And this is the full paragraph that it's in:
"I did all a human being could do to bring her to--rubbed her hands and slapped her face; but even then she was in no fit condition to appear. Go on she would, in spite of my prayers, and what does she do when she comes tripping on, blithe and gay as a school girl, but stumble and do a slide on her profile half way across the O.P. side, just as the tenor was starting the chorus to his song, 'Bevey in Little Children.' He being a nervous party springs a blue note that got the musical director hysterical and he forgot to give the bass drum man his cue and the whole thing went to blazes.
(It's interesting that the author passed up the chance to say it went to blue blazes. I wonder if blazes were already thought of as blue back then.)

I couldn't find the 1895 Kansas City Times article. Lighter, do you live in Kansas City? It's a great place to hear both blues and jazz, or at least it was when I was there in the 1970's and 80's. There were terrific local amateur blues bands playing at many little corner bars, and there was Milton's on Main, and the Grand Emporium, and an incredible blues club on the east side whose name I can't recall right now, and they were starting to re-develop 12th/18th and Vine. It was also a great place to dance to reggae and soca music, thanks chiefly to the Blue Riddim Band and SDI, and to hear and play folk music, thanks chiefly to The Foolkiller.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 30 May 15 - 12:49 AM

For what it's worth, I'm with you on this one Joseph--I've been reading John Fahey's "Charlie Patton". He does a very thorough analysis of music and lyrics, and points out that there is nothing musically, or lyrically that ties it exclusively to "The Delta", meaning that floating verses, rhythmic cadences and music figures are just like what was in music from everywhere else.

He also points out that Patton, who he says started performing prior to 1915, had a repertoire that included a lot of stuff that wasn't blues, where younger musicians, such as Son House and the Chatmons (who were his younger brothers) played mostly blues. This leads one to think that the blues might have become popular in Delta about the same time it became popular everywhere else--


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Mr Red
Date: 30 May 15 - 04:13 AM

just thought but if you take the analogy of fungi, they start from a centre and as they spread they can leave a centre bereft of fungi. Or take the phenomenon of rich and poor in cities. Rich folks living in the centre and as the city expands the rich want to be in "better" places so they migrate to the periphery, the centre is filled with the poor in the crumbling old buildings. But note, in a hundred years or so the centre becomes obscenely expensive again.

Now if "blues" had started in an urban environment like, say, New Orleans and spread from there, and fashion being what it is, "Jazz" came in to fill the foided centre...........................

we have that "delta" !

speculation can open eyes, but maybe not minds.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 30 May 15 - 08:32 AM

Possibly the question was laid to rest long ago, at least in the minds of specialists.

In a lengthy article in "American Folklore: An Encyclopedia" (J.Brunvand, ed., 1996), blues scholar David Evans writes:

"Blues first came to public notice around the beginning of the 20th century. The precise time and place cannot be identified. ...Blues was especially popular in ...the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana's Caddo Lake, and south Florida. ..."

While citing Lomax in his bibliography, nowhere does Evans assert that the Delta exclusively was the "land where the blues began."

It seems to me that roughly simultaneous popularity in New Orleans, southern Indiana, Memphis, and South Florida around 1910 would suggest many years of unnoticed development.

Presumably the intentional use of "blue notes" began ad lib, possibly to suggest a vocal moan. It would have taken a long time for that practice to become standardized into a new musical genre over a wide area.

It's been a long time since I listened to this album, recorded as late as 1974 to 1997, but I don't recall hearing anything bluesy - possibly because the banjo repertoire didn't lend itself well to blue notes:

http://www.folkways.si.edu/black-banjo-songsters-of-north-carolina-and-virginia/african-american-music-old-time/album/smithsonia

At any rate, while there's no suggestion that I'm aware of that the "blues" existed or spread during, say, the Civil War. But there's no way to know about the use of occasional "blue notes" during the 19t century. They would have gone unmentioned in print and would have originally been thought of as simply off-key.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 30 May 15 - 09:35 AM

I tried to post a message about this several days ago. Unfortunately, my computer crashed immediately afterwards and, on getting going again, I find the message hasn't landed.

The conversation has moved on quite a bit since then but, FWIW, here's a re-post. It might actualy land this time.

----------------------------------------------------------------------
Despite having been an avid Blues fan for over fifty years, I have never come across the slightest scrap of evidence to even suggest that the blues was born in the Delta. Moreover, my feeling is that the Blues did not arrise directly as a result of slavery, or as a survival of African musical heritage.

Rather, the idiom emerged sometime around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, as a result of social alienation which had been brought on by the failure of reconstruction and by the withdrawal of the northern army in 1876.

IE., with no army to stop them, white southerners were free to terrorise the black population with an avalanche of fiery crosses, lynchings, burnings, beatings and what have you. The effect of that campaign was to mentally unsettle black people and the musical consequence of that unsettlement was the Blues.

Such alienation was by no means confined to Mississippi, but in fact was replicated to a greater or lesser extent all over the South. Hence , rather than seeing the Blues as a product particularly of Mississippi, we find the idiom emerging, more or less around the same time, pretty well everywhere below the Mason-Dixon line.

Against that, it's worth pointing out that the Blues often seems to be at its most emotionally intense in the Delta. However, one might speculate that social conditions in the Delta were probably worse than anywhere else. If so, we can also speculate that the musical consequences of those conditions would be somewhere around the extremes of emotional expression.

But emotional intesity and appalling treatment do not autmatically equate with origins.
----------------------------------------------------------------------


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 30 May 15 - 10:07 AM

Am in general agreement, Fred. It's been a long time since I even heard it claimed that the blues scale "must have" originated in Africa.

But I doubt that the blues as a genre can be ascribed simply to "social alienation which had been brought on by the failure of reconstruction and by the withdrawal of the northern army in 1876."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 30 May 15 - 10:48 AM

Lighter. What makes you say that? As I mentioned, the blues first emerged around the turn of the 20th century (see for example Paul Oliver , Songsters and Saints). If we're looking for social causes, such a late date would rule out the direct effects of slavery, and BTW it would also rule out the notion of the Blues as an African survival.

Therefore, the social conditions which produced the Blues must have arisen sometime during the last two decades or so of the nineteenth century. IE., precisely when the earliest Blues singers were growing up and suffering the effects, not of slavery, but of the White backlash.

If there was something else going on then, besides the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings etc., then I appear to have missed it. Perhaps you could enlighten me.

Just on the score of the Blues scale, I am not a musicologist and I don't know my way around the various mucial scales to be heard in Africa. However, it's worth pointing out that the Blues scale is in fact the Dorian mode with a extra flattened note. Please don't quote me, but wouldn't it be surprising if the roots of the Blues lay not in Africa, but in the sounds which Black singers heard their White neigbours making? The high lonesome sound and all that?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: pattyClink
Date: 30 May 15 - 11:46 AM

Guest who wonders why it's called the delta when it's not one:   

It's my understanding that in the 19th century, the low alluvial plain country that surrounds the Lower Mississippi had a topography which looked remarkably similar to the Nile Delta. This inspired the naming of Cairo, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee, etc. Ignorant? I guess it seems so, to those of us with instant access to Google Earth, and after the work done by Fisk etc. in the 1940s to unravel the story of the shifting river and its floodplains and deltas, which by the way it's hard to see as you travel where the plains stop and the deltas begin.

By the time there was greater scientific understanding the place had a name which was well ingrained in common use.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 30 May 15 - 11:55 AM

"It would be interesting to know who first commented on 'blue notes,' however they might have been described, and when. The Oxford English dictionary's earliest example of the sense we mean is from so late as 1915" "'Blue' Note melody" appears on p. 2 of the 1913 edition of "Memphis Blues" (whose copy Handy had nothing to do with).

"Earlier than that it simply meant 'an incorrect or off-pitch note.'" What's your source for that?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 30 May 15 - 12:08 PM

"> I think what people like Newman White, Howard Odum, Thomas Talley, E.C. Perrow, Abbe Niles, Dorothy Scarborough, Charles Peabody, and Gates Thomas did before 1930 is generally overlooked and underrated these days by blues fans.

All very true, but they couldn't be everywhere. But I acknowledge that I haven't studied these sources, and their import may be stronger than I think."

White, for instance, collected Alabama and North Carolina songs and carefully compared them to songs others had collected in Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, etc.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 30 May 15 - 12:18 PM

"What we really need is a description of the blues written before 1912."

http://ourblues.net/2012/09/27/folk-song-and-folk-poetry-as-found-in-the-secular-songs-of-the-southern-negroes/

Especially pp. 270-273, 361-364.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 30 May 15 - 12:24 PM

Fred and Lighter--One of the things that Fahey did in his book on Patton was to do a content analysis of the lyrics for for any sort of references social justice or oppression. He didn't find it--he says, "Patton was an entertainer, not a social prophet in any sense. He had no profound message and probably was not very observant of the troubles of his own people."

He goes on to say, "His lyrics are totally devoid of any protesting sentiments attacking the social or racial status quo."

Earlier on the same page, he says "if we search for verses of great cultural significance, depicting any historical trend or movement, of aspirations to 'improve the lot of the people', we search in vain. Such a search would not be fruitful with any blues singer."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil
Date: 30 May 15 - 03:18 PM

Forwarded to Joe from a cousin still back in the islands:
"I know the South very well, I spent 20 years there one night"
Dick Gregory. Grouchy ol' St. Louis finally got his Hollywood Walk of Fame star last February ('bout damn time peoples!)

Fred: "If there was something else going on then, besides the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings etc., then I appear to have missed it. Perhaps you could enlighten me."

Stim beat me to Patton & Fahey so I'll take a schwang at Waters:

"Muddy Waters is remembered soley as a blues musician, but when he was discovered by the folklorist Alan Lomax on a plantation outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, he said his most popular numbers at local dances included "Chatanooga Choo-Choo" and "Darktown Strutters Ball," and in a later interview he recalled, "We had pretty dances then. We was black bottoming, Charleston, two-step, waltz and one-step."
McKee & Chisenhall, Beale Black and Blue, Baton Rouge, LSU Press, 1981, p.231.

We managed to shoehorn in a few semi-nonviolent activities and church on Sunday (or Saturday) so enough with hoary pigeonholes and sterotypes already. Somehow, someway, learn to process women wanting to dance and men wanting to be around women y'all.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 30 May 15 - 03:21 PM

> "Earlier than that it simply meant 'an incorrect or off-pitch note.'" What's your source for that?

See mine of May 29, 10:15 PM.

I.

Good find of "'Blue' note melody." I suspect it meant "melody based on supposedly incorrect notes that are actually correct here."

That would exemplify the way new word meanings can arise shift from possible ambiguity. Anyone who'd never heard of the earlier kind of "blue note" might easily think that use of the word was narrowly descriptive rather than broadly pejorative.

I've searched a number of vast newspaper databases without finding any earlier references to musical "blues" or blues-type "blue notes." There are a few more places I can look.

OED def.4b of "blue," adj., beginning in the 17th century, seems relevant: "Of a period, event, circumstance, etc.: sad, dismal, unpromising, depressing." It would not take too much of a shift to apply it to a sour note - though that it looks like that shift took a long, long time to appear and catch on, mostly among musicians American popular musicians. (The evidence is spotty.)


II.
Acc. to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "The rural blues developed in three principal regions, Georgia and the Carolinas, Texas, and Mississippi. The blues of Georgia and the Carolinas is noted for its clarity of enunciation and regularity of rhythm. Influenced by ragtime and white folk music, it is more melodic than the Texas and Mississippi styles."

And those are just the "principal" regions. Nothing there about the Delta as the ultimate source.

Mr Red's fungi analogy is worth keeping in mind, but it seems unlikely to relate the blues. If blues originated at point A, there seems to be no reason why they should disappear from A after spreading to points B-Z. Not that it *couldn't* happen; but there would have to be some special circumstance.

Let's say guitarist Joe Blue invents the blues as we known them in Blue City in 1880. Blue becomes an itinerant musician and travels all over the South. If his music had caught on at home, why would it die out there?

And if it hadn't caught on, saying it "began" in Blue City would pedantically miss the point. The effective point of origin would be the first place where it did catch on on and from which it began to spread, regardless of where it was, strictly speaking, first played.

As for "Blues is jazz." Jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet (1897-1959, from N.O.) frequently insisted that "Jazz is ragtime."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 May 15 - 06:29 PM

Please remember that Joseph Scott started this thread. I'm Joe, and I'm getting confused...


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 30 May 15 - 07:19 PM

High point of Odum's 1911 description:

"The 'musicianer' places his knife by the side of his instrument while he picks the strings and sings. He can easily pick it up and use it at the proper time without interrupting the harmony. In this way the instrument can be made to 'sing,''talk,'[or] 'cuss'.... It defies musical notation to give it full expression."

"Defies musical notation" is significant, but Odum never says anything specific about what was later called the blues scale.

On the other hand, every other feature of the blues that I can think of appears somewhere in the articles, which never mentions musical "blues" by name.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 30 May 15 - 07:44 PM

Fred, I think you misunderstood my point.

In the late '60s and early '70s it was frequently asserted that the blues scale "undoubtedly" came from Africa because it pretty clearly originated among black Americans.

Sounds plausible, but as you say there's never been any evidence of an African origin. Plus the scale would have had to have gone quite unnoticed since at least the early 19th century, when the U.S. got out of the international slave trade - or, in theory, since the beginning of the 17th, when slaves began to be imported.

Beyond that, I'm skeptical of any theory that a musical form or style can be generated simply by widespread social conditions. (Subject matter, sure; but form, no.) I see no connection between the two concepts. Did rock 'n' roll become popular in the early '50s because teenagers had to hide their fears of nuclear holocaust in a more frenetic, more sexually charged kind of music? I don't know, but I doubt it. Did swing become popular in the '30s because people needed something new to make them forget the Depression? I doubt that too. Parlor songs became incredibly saccharine in the 1840s or '50s for no obvious reason. Social causality isn't usually that simple.

More to the point, were day-to-day conditions for Southern blacks really more depressing after Reconstruction than they'd been under slavery? Would the very individual, supposedly depressive singers of the first blues have been any less depressed if Reconstruction had succeeded? Lynchings hit their peak in the early '90s, but as Stim observes, early blues seem to say nothing about them. Even if the singers were afraid to speak out, nothing would stop them from singing about something metaphorical like "devils" or something like that. But most early blues are about personal and domestic matters.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 30 May 15 - 09:48 PM

Lucy McKim Garrison, who was the first to collect, transcribe, notate and publish the music of African Americans said the following:

"it is difficult to express the entire character of these negro ballads by mere musical notes and signs. The odd turns made in the throat; and the curious rhythmic effect produced by single voices chiming in at different irregular intervals, seem almost as impossible to place on score, as the singing of birds, or the tones of an Aeolian harp. Their airs however can reached. They are too decided not to be easily understood, and their striking originality
would catch the ear of any musician. Besides this, they are valuable as an expression of the character and life of the race which is playing such a conspicuous part in our history. The wild sad strains tell, as their sufferers themselves never could, of crushed
hopes, keen sorrow, and a dull daily misery which covers them as hopelessly as got from the rice swamps...."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil
Date: 30 May 15 - 10:37 PM

Joe: The text was addressed (and now confirmed) to "Mr. Offer." (To which she adds, if it's Joesphine or Joeslyn, no offense) Hope this helps.
FYI: Joseph (OP) you're "Dread" ;D

Blues is Jazz, etc:
I was tempted to follow Seagrove with that Bechet ragtime quote.
Bechet: "Jazz, that's a name the white people have given to the music."
Rosen, Critical Entertainment, Cambridge, Harvard U. Press, 2000. p.217
Note: Seagrove and everybody referenced in the Trib article were white.

And at the risk of blues drift I will add Armstrong on the same subject:
"At one time they was calling it levee camp music, then in my day it was ragtime. When I got up north I commenced to hear about jazz, Chicago style, Dixieland, swing. All refinements of what we played in New Orleans. But every time they change the name they got a bigger check. All these different kinds of fantastic music you hear today – course it's all guitars now – used to hear that way back in the old sanctified churches where the sisters used to shout until their petticoats fell down. There ain't nothing new. Old soup used over."
"Music" Putnam's Monthly, 1:1, January 1953, p.119-120

Lomax, a few decades on:
"I discovered to my consternation that the rich traditions which my father and I had documented had virtually disappeared. Most young people are caught up in TV and the Hit Parade... simply don't know anything about the black folklore that their forebears had produced and which had sustained and entertained generations of Americans. We resolved to try and do something about this situation."
(My tattered notes of) VHS "Land Where the Blues Began", Beverly Hills, Pacific Arts Video; PBS Home Video, 1990. No time stamp, sorry.

And Wald (back to ragtime)
"The pop music world that began with ragtime is fiercely democratic. Whatever its underlying commercial foundations, it claims to be the music of all America, rich and poor, country and city, black and white (and yellow, red, and brown, when it bothers to acknowledge such subtleties). The only gap it does not strive to bridge is age: Each shift of genre blazons the arrival of a new generation and threatens all doubters with the ignominy of hunching over their canes and mumbling impotent imprecations as youth dances by." (Brutal... but fair.)
Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll, NY, Oxford, 2009, p.27


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 31 May 15 - 01:05 AM

It sounds like the words "blues" and "jazz" were first used by people who didn't initially create the music they referred to by those terms, and the meanings were not initially clear and unanimous among the people who used the terms.

That reminds me of when I first heard and heard of grunge music. When I moved to Seattle in 1989, a musician there said to me, "All this music that's around now that everyone's calling grunge, that's not grunge. Real grunge is all gone now."

I think the idea that blues is a musical form used to air grievances about a history of poverty and repression, and that it's called "blues" because it expresses the depressed feelings people have about that history, was probably something that was tacked on a little later. And it was probably tacked on because most people didn't understand why it was called "blues," and so they guessed that it had some connection to feeling blue, and that guess became attached to the music. Similarly, after the introduction of nylon fabric rendered obsolete the duck that was such a big part of WWII soldiers' lives, most people didn't understand the term and concluded that the tape made for those soldiers by coating duck with rubber and adhesive must have been created for sealing ductwork.

Even after the blue=sad meaning was attached to blues music, some people ignored that meaning and continued creating joyful dance music and calling it blues, in accordance with Gordon Seagrove's guess about the implication of the word "blue," i.e. that blue music takes away your blues. That's certainly what the blues musicians and fans in Kansas City were using it for when I lived there.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil
Date: 31 May 15 - 03:16 AM

"Similarly, after the introduction of nylon fabric rendered obsolete the duck that was such a big part of WWII soldiers' lives, most people didn't understand the term and concluded that the tape made for those soldiers by coating duck with rubber and adhesive must have been created for sealing ductwork."

"Worm and parcel with the lay, turn and serve the other way!" We sailors and sparky's used linseed-cautchouc-duck tape (and varnish-cambric for the aero-nutcases) way before that WWII landlubber stuff came along. Posted a 'parcel' lately anyone? I hoped you 'wrapped' it well!

PS: I was in KC (renov on the Pershing Street P.O.) about same time as you. The five "W" of blues-jazz are pretty tame compared to the subject of best BBQ in those parts.

The impression one gets reading Lomax, et al is what they recorded "...had sustained and entertained generations of Americans." Yet his own life experience shows it to be blurry snapshot of transcience. Methinks if Lomax had recorded twenty years on either side we'd hear the exact same complaint about whomever's generation of music came after.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Mr Red
Date: 31 May 15 - 07:06 AM

it has already been said
the OP doesn't ask if the whole thing is a myth, it askes who started it.
Have we yet established that it is a myth?

Bad OP question is my opinion.

And as for bent notes, the violin has been around long enough for violinist to easily bend/glissando notes so the practice would have been around as artifice/humour since at least the days of Nicolò Amati. Lute players Like John Dowland would have known the technique, but how to notate it in tablature?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 31 May 15 - 08:19 AM

> the practice would have been around as artifice/humour since at least the days of Nicolò Amati. Lute players Like John Dowland would have known the technique, but how to notate it in tablature?

A significant point. Any lutenist, guitarist, violinist, etc., could have bent a note. But because they could have done it doesn't mean they *did* do it. And surely if they did in actual performance, a tablature would have appeared to indicate it. Or if not, references to the practice should be findable.

There are many instances of seemingly simple, even obvious, innovations, that have taken forever to be discovered. This is especially true in language.

Example: Large numbers of people have been saying "Whatever!" dismissively for only about 30 years. (Short for a sarcastic, "Whatever you say, idiot!") What took them so long? In theory nothing prevented George Washington or Elizabeth I from saying"Whatever!", but if lexical evidence is of any value, they clearly did not. But if in fact they did, informally, once or twice in their lives, no one would have noticed. It was not part of "the language," any more than blue notes were part of musical language before the 20th century.

Then there are blends like the gossip columnists' "Brangelina" referring to Bard Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a couple. It took the English language 1600 years to come up with that kind of a blend (abbrev. celeb name + abbrev. celeb name = name for both together). No single reason; it just did. And most potential examples of the same process still don't exist. (So far as I know, the Brits don't have an "Elizaphil" or a "Willikate" )

Of course, any clever coinage nowadays is likely to sweep the world in a way that would have been impossible two hundred years ago; but with note-bending and blues scales we're not talking about just an individual's musical eccentricity, we're talking about a widespread practice.

Stim, I can't help but be struck by Garrison's silence on bent notes, blue notes, seemingly off-key notes, odd scales, etc. It's hard to imagine why eloquent observers like her and Odum would not have drawn attention to the phenomenon if it was at all typical of the music they discussed.

Unless some new evidence turns up, one has to conclude that intentional "blue notes" were rarely used before about 1910.

Ety, what evidence we have (particularly that 1913 "'blue' note melody" suggests that it was the notes more than anything else that led to the names, "blues" being short for phrases like "blue-note compositions."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 31 May 15 - 11:54 AM

The term "blue note" has a folksie or low-brow sound. Classically-trained musicians would have used something like "tierce d'Orléans," or at least something without the word "note" in it.

So I assume it was used either by itinerant musicians who didn't have a lot of technical vocabulary, or by trained musicians going for a folksy feeling, or both. Adding blue notes to any type of music, such as ragtime piano, or banjo tunes now being played on the new steel-stringed guitars that started to appear around 1900, would have given a visceral pleasure that might have prompted listeners or fellow jammers to exclaim "Ah... play those blues, man!" It could have been an exhortation to continue adding blue notes to the piece, and not a description of a type of music. The notes do seem to have been used with a variety of folk and popular musical styles.

But exclamations such as that might have confused the layman, who might have assumed that "those blues" was a reference to a name for whatever type of music was being played at the time, particularly if it sounded like it might be a new type of music for which the layman didn't already have a name. That would account for the people Seagrove quoted confusing or equating jazz with blues, and using both terms to describe what most people today would probably think of as ragtime.

If it was the other way around, i.e. the note taking its name from the musical genre, it should have been initially, or at least occasionally, called a "blues note."

Thanks, Phil, for evoking the happy memory of Arthur Bryant's and Gates & Sons' barbecued mutton.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 31 May 15 - 02:49 PM

If, by a blue note you mean the practice or dropping notes by a semitone or quarter tone, this practice is not new, it is used in medieval plainchant, for instance in various forms of the Kyrie Eleison. The twelve bar progression is what defines blues.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 31 May 15 - 09:39 PM

Dave: Thanks for that info. In a previous thread on this subject some people said that what we call a blue note is used in many genres of western music and in much music from other cultures. I think the only thing that's new, or relatively new, is that name, i.e. the idea of calling it a blue note.

Did they have a name for it in medieval plainchant?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 31 May 15 - 11:31 PM

Actually, Lighter, I posted that quote from Lucy McKim Garrison because it indicated that she and her associates were very aware of the bent and altered notes--a couple places in her notes in "Slave Songs" she gives the caveat that they were not able to accurately represent what was sung--at any rate, what she heard was probably sounded a bit like this:
Georgia Sea Island Singers Listen and tell me if you hear any blue notes.

Note:The Georgia Sea Island Singers were formed in the early 20th century and performed, preserved, and propagated their music, which reflects the Gullah traditions, which are generally considered to incorporate a lot of fairly undiluted African musical elements.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 31 May 15 - 11:57 PM

The Georgia Sea Island Singers link was from me.

A couple thoughts:

1) More likely that anything else, "The Blues" were called "The Blues" because so many of the songs made reference to having the blues--

Went to the river
The river was runnin' up and down
Went to the river
Had the blues so bad
Started to jump in and drown

2) It is true that many blues tunes use the 12 measure phrase--but a lot of blues, particularly early and folk blues, doesn't..

3) Though a lot of blues use a fairly standard I-IV-V chord changes, there are lot of others, and, in fact, there are blues that don't have any chord changes.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 03:44 AM

Etymologophile (hope I spelt that right), I don't know what it is called in plainchant notation (neume), but I think in general it is just an accidental which lowers rather than raises the note. I only used Plainsong as an example because it is the oldest form of music which is written down as far as I know, and if you look up Plainsong on Wikipedia, at the top of the page is a Kyrie in neume notation which has flats as accidentals.

I don't know of a notation for lowering by a quarter tone though.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 08:09 AM

Yes, Stim, I do hear some blue notes, but Bessie Jones wasn't born till 1902. By the time the Singers were recorded by Alan Lomax, blue notes had evidently been characteristic of African-American singing for at least 25 years.

Remember, I'm *not* saying that the blues scale developed only around 1910, only that there's no evidence for it before then. That's pretty much the established view among blues scholars.

Blues fans are more likely to assume romantically that the scale goes way back in African-American (or West African) history.

There are many reasons why a sung melody might defy transcription: irregular timing and syncopation, for example, or ad lib harmonies. These seem to feature in much African-American traditional singing as well. Early writers said that Anglo-American chanteys were "wild" and defied transcription, yet they don't feature a blues scale.

I'm just surprised that if theoretically "off-key" notes were central to the songs Odum and Garrison heard that they didn't say anything more specific.

On the other hand, blue notes are so characteristic of AA song for as long as we have recordings of it, their use must go back before ca1900.

It may be that the notes first became "standardized" (if that's the word) in so-called "field hollers," which tended to be spontaneously expressive and unbound by standard musical practice. Perhaps such "hollering" really is centuries old. It's exactly the sort of thing that *nobody* would have bothered to describe in detail before the twentieth century.

At some point, presumably, the vocal freedom of the "holler" began to be applied to songs and guitar runs.

That could have happened anywhere, and undoubtedly in more than one place over a period of years. (This is called "polygenesis": a repeated rather than a one-time invention from which everything later flows.)

As for "accidentals" in other music, I think we're talking about two related but different things. The accidentals are mere ornaments. Modern "blues notes" are intrinsic to the scale.

But any accidentals heard repeatedly by slaves in religious hymns might also have accustomed many singers to use them more widely and insistently.

Both the emotional "blues" and the independently named "blue notes" clearly influenced the name of the genre. It would be wrong to single out one or the other as "the" origin.

I tend to agree that the name most likely came from "outside," and that the earliest blues singers might not have used it to describe the music. They were musicians, not theoreticians. What we call a blues scale would just have been another technique. Why should a folk musician bother to categorize it differently from any other way of playing?

Again, just thinking out loud.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:16 PM

"Acc. to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: 'The rural blues developed in three principal regions, Georgia and the Carolinas, Texas, and Mississippi."

Reminiscent of David Evans in its random "precision."

"The blues of Georgia and the Carolinas is noted for its clarity of enunciation and regularity of rhythm. Influenced by ragtime and white folk music, it is more melodic than the Texas and Mississippi styles.'" Sigh. Ragtime started nearer the Mississippi River than the East Coast, and ragtime playing was popular among guitarists about John Hurt's age _across the South_ as of e.g. 1907, which was e.g. about 15 years before Charlie Patton learned "Pony Blues." Blues songs that can be confirmed as really early tend to correlate, when played by early-born musicians, with roughly speaking the playing styles of Robert Wilkins and Jesse Fuller (as heard _across the South_).


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:18 PM

"Let's say guitarist Joe Blue invents the blues as we known them in Blue City in 1880. Blue becomes an itinerant musician and travels all over the South. If his music had caught on at home, why would it die out there?" In areas where people try particularly hard to be modernistic, one thing after another (such as use of banjo) can die out there before dying out other places. But of course the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta doesn't qualify as one of those places.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:25 PM

"It sounds like the words 'blues' and 'jazz' were first used by people who didn't initially create the music they referred to by those terms, and the meanings were not initially clear and unanimous among the people who used the terms."

"Jass" or "jazz" was a name that caught on in Chicago to describe peppy music such as ragtime with collective improvisation by visiting bands from New Orleans.

What make you think there was relatively little consensus about what "blues music" meant as of about 1909-1911?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:34 PM

"And it was probably tacked on because most people didn't understand why it was called 'blues,' and so they guessed that it had some connection to feeling blue, and that guess became attached to the music." On all available evidence the vocal blues music of about 1908 was sung about having the blues which equalled being blue.

Dread


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:37 PM

"Even after the blue=sad meaning was attached to blues music, some people ignored that meaning and continued creating joyful dance music and calling it blues" What evidence do you have supporting your idea that the concept of joyful dance music was attached to what you consider "blues music" before the concept of sadness was?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:40 PM

"Bad OP question is my opinion." Only bad if anyone can show that "we have evidence that blues music originated in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta." We don't.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:45 PM

"'blues' being short for phrases like 'blue-note compositions.'" When among whom? People were talking about "blues" music in 1909-1910 well before that 1913 publication associated blues music with the "blue note."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:53 PM

"could have been" "could have been" "could have been" Reminiscent of Sam Charters.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:55 PM

"The twelve bar progression is what defines blues." No, 16-bar progressions were widely accepted in early blues.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 12:59 PM

"1) More likely that anything else, 'The Blues' were called 'The Blues' because so many of the songs made reference to having the blues--" Yes, e.g. in what Howard Odum collected before 1909 and in the lyrics from 1909 that E.C. Perrow published. Rock and roll and hip hop also got their names from lyrics used in them.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 01:02 PM

Without detailed and specific contemporary accounts, "could have been" is the best we can do. That is in the nature of most historical investigations of folk music.

Now if you could unearth such accounts, we'd know a lot more.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 01:04 PM

"Remember, I'm *not* saying that the blues scale developed only around 1910, only that there's no evidence for it before then. That's pretty much the established view among blues scholars." Which scale are you referring to? Even individual artists such as Lemon Jefferson didn't stick to the same scale in all their blues songs.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 01:05 PM

The idea that there is "the blues scale" is something that is taught to beginning guitarists so they will sound relatively funky quickly and their parents will keep paying. In early blues a lot of different scales were used.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 01:26 PM

Maybe this example will help explain my take on "could have been": my belief that "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home" predates 1909 doesn't come from thinking about what sorts of lyrics I can best imagine as plausibly sung before 1909 (seems to me the imagination is largely the enemy of the fact), it comes from having encountered claims made by Emmet Kennedy, Gus Cannon, and Roy Carew.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 06:21 PM

Nice thread Dread.

I read what Armstrong and Bechet were talking about in rag-v-jazz-v-blues as "(re)packaging." It's been the standard process in American entertainment for centuries. Everybody, and I mean everybody, from John Durang & John Bill Ricketts to Mitch Miller did it.

So, at the risk of drifting back on topic... one more chimp who isn't here... Moe Asche. In packaging terms the "Sad Bluesman" is descendant of the abolitionist's "Sad Mulatto" and minstrelsy's "Sad Darkie."

The history of the "blue note" may go back centuries. But American variety artist and audience awareness of history will be limited to a few decades at best (as Lomax observed, liking it or not.)


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 07:40 PM

Black folk (or heavily folk-influenced) blues as packaged with white audiences directly in mind has been one thing.

Blues in general as packaged for music fans in general has included the likes of Wilbur Sweatman whom whites and blacks liked, Bessie Smith whom whites and blacks liked, Cab Calloway whom whites and blacks liked, Jimmie Rodgers whom whites and blacks liked, Woody Herman whom whites and blacks liked, Louis Jordan whom whites and blacks liked, etc.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Jun 15 - 08:08 PM


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 01:05 PM

quote: Note: Seagrove and everybody referenced in the Trib article were white.

Phil, how do you know that? One of the drawings published with the article showed a black saxophonist. I was assuming that the two pianists quoted in the article were very likely to have been black.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 01:20 PM

"Phil, how do you know that?" If we take "Jazz" Marion, for instance, him pointing out that blue notes were used by "darkies originally" suggests that he wasn't black.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 01:24 PM

P.S. "Jazz" Marion claiming that "the blues are never written into music" (if he did and Seagrove wasn't just playing fast and loose) shows how much Marion had been keeping up with sheet music during 1912-1915. Abbe Niles lived in Connecticut and he first encountered blues on sheet music in 1913.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 01:34 PM

In those days, moreover, the journalist would certainly have said if they were black. The practice was to identify the ethnicity of anyone who wasn't a WASP, which was the default category.

One reason was to make the story more interesting. There was also the mainstream WASP assumption that anybody not a WASP was intrinsically either amusing or threatening, and readers expected to be told who was who.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 01:53 PM

quote: If we take "Jazz" Marion, for instance, him pointing out that blue notes were used by "darkies originally" suggests that he wasn't black.
Then do the lyrics of "In the Evening by the Moonlight" suggest that James A. Bland wasn't black? Does the frequent use of the "N-word" by many singers and comedians today suggest that they aren't black?

quote: Abbe Niles lived in Connecticut and he first encountered blues on sheet music in 1913.
Do you mean that Abbe Niles encountered blue notes on sheet music, which is what Jazz Marion was talking about, or do you mean that he encountered compositions in the blues genre?

Lighter: The accompanying drawing identified the ethnicity of the musicians, if that was really necessary in a night club report by Seagrove as opposed to a news story.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 03:44 PM

"blue notes on sheet music, which is what Jazz Marion was talking about" To someone who was asking about the blues, "Jazz" Marion mentioned both the "blue note" and the "blues," and talked about the "blues" not being on the sheet music ("never written into music"). If the mellow-about-words Seagrove quoted him correctly.

Abbe Niles encountered the sheet music of Handy's "Memphis Blues" in 1913.

I don't think a song lyric from 1879 has all that much to do with how black people talked to white people about black people in conversation in the North in 1915.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 04:19 PM

> drawing identified the ethnicity

But if IIRC, not the pianist's. The link is down.

The sax players I took to be generic. But the pianist he was the one who did the explaining. Wasn't he working for a music publisher?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 04:27 PM

Found it.

One pianist was simply "dark-haired," the other "tall with nimble fingers." No one in 1915 would have assumed they were black, any more than they would the woman who was playing German and Irish songs.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 04:28 PM

Joseph: You're misreading the article. Jazz Marion isn't talking about a genre of music called blues. It would make no sense to say that 12-bar blues isn't written and is just interpolated by the performer. He's saying that about blue notes, which are not only sour and discordant but also often involve bent strings so that the note can't be represented in a conventional score.

The columnist may be talking about a type of music called "the blues," though that isn't clear. He definitely thinks there is a type of music called "blue music," and "jazz blues," but what he means by "blues" isn't clear. However, when he asks Marion about the blues, the latter replies in accordance with what the term means to him. Marion doesn't call the style of music blues; he calls it jazz.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 05:29 PM

"To someone who was asking about the blues, 'Jazz' Marion mentioned both the 'blue note' and the 'blues,' and talked about the 'blues' not being on the sheet music ('never written into music') [... if] the mellow-about-words Seagrove quoted him correctly" is not a misreading of

"At the next place a young woman was keeping 'Der Wacht Am Rhein' and 'Tipperary Mary' apart when the interrogator entered.
   'What are the blues?' he asked gently. 'Jazz!' The young woman's voice rose high to drown the piano.
   A tall young man with nimble fingers rose from the piano and came over. 'That's me,' he said. And then he unraveled the mystery of 'the blues.'
   'A blue note is a sour note,' he explained. 'It's a discord – a harmonic discord. The blues are never written into music, but are interpolated by the piano player or other players. They aren't new. They are just reborn into popularity. They started in the south half a century ago and are the interpolations of darkies originally. The trade name for them is 'jazz.'"

Whereas "... blue notes on sheet music, which is what Jazz Marion was talking about..." is a misreading of it.

We don't know what "Jazz" Marion was thinking, or even if he was quoted correctly. Seagrove acted in the piece as if being precise could be not as fun as being less precise.

"It would make no sense to say that 12-bar blues" Nothing was said about 12-bar strains in the article. As of 1915, 16-bar blues strains were considered blues strains, e.g. by the white composer Euday Bowman whose "Kansas City Blues" was published in 1915.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 05:32 PM

quote: I don't think a song lyric from 1879 has all that much to do with how black people talked to white people about black people in conversation in the North in 1915.

It shows that race was discussed in that era both casually and frankly and not necessarily in what we would consider polite terms. That song was still popular in 1915, and it shows that "darkie" was one of the more kindly words used, and it uses the term with respect and even affection. If you need more precisely concurrent examples, not necessarily as kindly, there are the "coon songs" or "coon shouts" that were still popular till 1920 and sung by both black and white performers (such as the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet's coon shout "Down on the Old Camp Ground"), and the pickaninny songs that were popular at least from Joplin's 1901 "Pickaninny Days" till Noble Sissle's 1921 "Pickaninny Shoes."

Do you have some evidence that a black person would not have described other black people as "darkies" in a conversation with a white person in 1915? I wouldn't be surprised if a black person today were to tell me that jazz was played originally by blacks in New Orleans, though 50 years from now "black" will probably have become a racist and insulting term. And in fact, about 25 years ago in Kansas City a black man I had just met told me the reason he doesn't like blues is because it's "nigger hillbilly music."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Etymologophile
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 05:42 PM

Joseph: You're assuming that Marion uses the word "blues" to mean what you mean by it. But the context shows that he doesn't mean that and isn't thinking of a type of sad music called blues. Seagrove and the bar-flies he quotes are confused about that, and trying to sound like they aren't, but Marion, being a musician, was familiar with term "blue note" (other references cited above confirm that it was common slang among musicians) and he knew that the not-at-all-sad music that excited them was full of such notes.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 05:53 PM

Getting back to "Who started the Delta blues myth," from this

https://ia801007.us.archive.org/31/items/78QuarterlyNo3/78%20Quarterly%20No%203_djvu.txt

it looks like as of roughly 1952 James McKune was into a variety of blues singers, such as Jimmy Witherspoon, but also agreeing with a friend that they both valued "rough" singing (and also lyrics that seemed original, and lyrics that told a narrative, and singers who sounded unlike other singers, all which runs kind of contrary to the idea that they thought they were about knowing what "folk" blues was).

Of course Alan Lomax beats 1952 anyway, but others helped.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 05:55 PM

"You're assuming that Marion uses the word 'blues' to mean what you mean by it." Nope.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 06:04 PM

I may have been wrong about "nobody" mentioning field hollers in the 19th century. There is at least one mention of something like them, in Northerner Frederick Law Olmsted's "A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States" (1856). Several blues historians quote it:

"At midnight I was awakened by loud laughter, and, looking out [of my railroad car], saw that the loading gang of negroes had made a fire, and were enjoying a right merry repast. Suddenly, one raised such a sound as I never heard before; a long, loud, musical shout, rising, and falling, and breaking into falsetto, his voice ringing through the woods in the clear, frosty night air, like a bugle-call. As he finished, the melody was caught up by another, and then, another, and then, by several in chorus."

Olmsted describes the practice as "Negro jodling." He mentions hearing it in South Carolina in 1853. If he heard it anywhere else, he says nothing about it.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jun 15 - 06:14 PM

Another contributing factor to "blue" notes may have been the discordant sound of some traditional open banjo chords. While not strictly speaking "blue notes," that kind of "lonesome" banjo frailing would undoubtedly have accustomed people - white and black - to discords as a normal component of music.

Of course, maybe they developed the tunings because they already liked discords.

I've been looking for pre-1920s references to the sound of melancholy tunes (like "Texas Rangers") which, played on the fiddle, may have encouraged glissandos and blue notes, but such descriptions have eluded me. The practice is possibly post-1900 as well.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 04 Jun 15 - 12:29 PM

Singing a flatted third over an accompanying major I, for instance, was common among black and white folk musicians in the South, and I've heard examples of it from Europe and Africa. Suppose you think similar to 1b345b7 is a "normal" scale, among a lot of people you know, and a lot of those people are learning major chords as they learn to play instruments, and are combining a scale similar to that with accompaniment with major chords. Then that sounds normal to you.

Handy was proud that some people thought it was interesting when he threw flatted thirds into his scores in places an Abbe Niles wouldn't expect. But that was because Niles lived in Connecticut. When Richard M. Jones (born near Baton Rouge, LA) wrote about a tune with the same chord progression as "Bucket's Got A Hole In It" as "the oldest blues in the world," he was speaking from personal experience that Abbe Niles didn't have.

Blues notes only sounded like wrong notes to _some_ people.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 04 Jun 15 - 12:32 PM

And if you listen to e.g. Henry Thomas's quills playing, using similar to 1b345b7 as a scale rather than similar to 12356 as a scale wasn't considered essential to blues music by the earliest-born blues musicians anyway.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jun 15 - 06:03 PM

The best thing about music is playing it.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 08 Jun 15 - 01:15 PM

"The best thing about music is playing it." Not the way I play it.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 26 Jun 15 - 01:39 PM

"the blues scale"

"The Negro... expressed his musical scale 1-2-3-5-6." -- John Work Jr. (born about 1872), _Folk Song Of The American Negro_, 1915.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 31 Aug 16 - 10:17 PM

Ironically, Alan Lomax's own copy of _Father Of The Blues_ reportedly has "Got No More Home Than A Dog" (AAA blues from Indiana, before the AAA blues from Tutwiler) marked in pencil as of particular interest to him!


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Lighter
Date: 01 Sep 16 - 08:28 AM

>I think the idea that blues is ...

Couldn't agree more with this whole paragraph.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: leeneia
Date: 01 Sep 16 - 08:41 AM

This is how the blues really began

They heard the breeze in the trees
Singin' weird melodies
And they made that, the start of the blues
And from a jail came the wail of a down-hearted frail
And they played that as a part of the blues

From a whippoorwill way upon a hill
They took a new note
Pushed it through a horn
Until it was worn into a blue note

And then they nursed it
They rehearsed it
And then sent out that news
that the Southland gave birth to the blues.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Alan Whittle
Date: 01 Sep 16 - 10:09 PM

who put the bom in the bom! bom! bom!.....
i usually blame Ewan thingy....


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 02 Sep 16 - 02:19 AM

">I think the idea that blues is ...

Couldn't agree more with this whole paragraph."

The grievances in the early blues songs were personal. Typical were these stanzas Howard Odum collected by 1908:

"That woman will be the death of me
Some girl will be the death of me
Lord, Lord, Lord"

"So she laid in jail back to the wall
So she laid in jail back to the wall
So she laid in jail back to the wall
This brown-skin man cause of it all"

"I'm poor boy, long way from home
I'm poor boy, long way from home
Oh, I'm poor boy, long way from home"

"Well I woke up this morning, couldn't keep from crying
Well I woke up this morning, couldn't keep from crying
Well I woke up this morning, couldn't keep from crying
For thinking about that babe of mine"


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: leeneia
Date: 02 Sep 16 - 12:09 PM

Sorry, Joseph, but a man blaming his woman for all his troubles is hardly original. And the lines about waking up crying and being away from home are very common.

It's just so much safer to blame your woman or to hurt your woman than to go after your employer, the government, the taxman or the Klan.

One exception: "She laid in jail, back to the wall." Why was she in jail? We'll never know for sure, but experience suggests one of these:

for shoplifting
for attacking the man who had been beating her
for prostitution

In modern times, you can add writing bad checks to this list of common female offenses.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 02 Sep 16 - 05:45 PM

"a man blaming his woman for all his troubles is hardly original" Who said anything about "original"?

"And the lines about waking up crying and being away from home are very common." What do you have in mind?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 10 Aug 18 - 11:00 PM

"Ironically, Alan Lomax's own copy of _Father Of The Blues_ reportedly has 'Got No More Home Than A Dog' (AAA blues from Indiana, before the AAA blues from Tutwiler) marked in pencil as of particular interest to him!"

Considering how John and Alan actually defined the "holler" when Alan was young (inconsistently with what we know of, correct me if I'm wrong, ALL the close relatives of the Tutwiler song), and considering when guitars became popular among blacks in the South (about the "Railroad Bill" era), and when blues music arose in the South (Handy and others talked way back about e.g. "Joe Turner," and when Joe Turney did that line of work, e.g. 1888, was always in the old newspapers), and considering when e.g. Gus Cannon said he heard Alec Lee, and considering that Handy heard "Got No..." roughly EIGHT YEARS before Tutwiler, according to that book _Father Of The Blues_ that Alan owned, and considering that people who listened to guitarists who weren't W.C. Handy existed, how much of a self-indulgent he-was-in-Mississippi-on-the-government's-dime-in-1941-not-somewhere-else, Mississippi-promotin'-Louisiana-e.g.-not-promotin'-nearly-as-much goofball did Alan have to be to write of Tutwiler in a later "important" book, "the first time anyone had heard a blues holler set to guitar"?

(I stand by all the defenses I've made of AL on mudcat on other topics.)


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 12 Aug 18 - 07:53 AM

Re The original question. W C Handy seems to have had a lot to do with it.

There is an interesting thesis by Vic Hobson on line. https://core.ac.uk/display/2780531
I believe there is also a book by Hobson, and I would recommend his work.

Hobson goes over ground covered in some posts here eg Odum, Scarborough etc.

Hobson says: “W. C. Handy’s autobiography The Father of the Blues does not argue convincingly for a belief that the Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of the blues; there are far too many internal contradictions for that.”

and

“It is not that Handy convincingly argues for the Delta being where he first heard the blues; it is rather that later generations of blues writers have chosen to privilege Handy’s Mississippi recollections over his other statements.”

Hobson points out that Handy gave contradictory accounts of where he first heard the blues. What these accounts seem to have in common is a desire on the part of Handy to give the impression that his own ‘blues’ had what we might call a ‘folk’ origin.

Hobson also argues that Handy’s own use of the 12-bar was significant in that form coming to be seen as ‘the blues’.

At one time Handy claims to have been influenced by a three-line stanza piece ‘Got no more home than a dog, Lawd’, that he heard in 1893, and at another time by the famous Tutwiler incident which was years later.   The 1893 song was sung by a minstrelsy band, led by Phil Jones in Evansville. Hobson suggests that both accounts cannot be true.

It would take too long to sum up Hobson’s arguments. But if you are interested, it is a fascinating read. He isn't the only person to have looked into Handy's assertions and question how far the fit known facts and indeed eachother, but I can't lay my hands on these just now.

The Delta was cleared and drained surprisingly late. Something I read suggested that the blues was appearing before people moved into the Delta. So I think I agree that it is a myth, though it is a nice one.

Some posts have discussed the origins of phrase ‘the blues’ to describe a melancholy state of mind, this was current in England and examples from the 18th and 19th century are given in the dictionary.
A song about ‘having the blues’ was published in the USA mid-19th century. It was by Blesser and Graham.

The first piece to call itself a blues was published in 1909 and was called ‘The Alabama Blues’.

The first published piece to have a 12-bar section in was written by an Sicilian-American anarchist called de Maggio and came out in 1908.
Obviously the relationship between published blues, which would have been played via vaudeville and so on, and what people did in their homes and communities is another question. But I don’t think you can overlook the evidence of what was printed, as the ideas had to come from somewhere.

Some African American journalists were complaining about blues music on the vaudeville circuits as early as 1912.

A few snippets. Hope these are of interest. Abbot and Seroff have written a lot of interesting pieces about early blues and vaudeville.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 12 Aug 18 - 05:17 PM

Do not get the Blues

Trip lightly over trouble:
        Trip lightly over wrong:
We only make grief double
        By dweliling on it long.
Why clasp woe's hand so tightly?
        Why sigh o'er blossom's dead?
Why cling to forms unsightly?
        Why not seek joy instead?

Trip lightly over sorrow:
        Though all the day be dark,
The sun may shine tomrrow,
        And gaily sing the lark:
Fair hope have not departed,
        Though roses may have fled:
Then never be down-hearted,
        But look for joy instead.

Trip lightly over sadness;
        Stand not to rail at doom:
We're pearls to string of gladness,
        On this side of the tomb:
While stars are nightly shining,
        And heaven is overhead,
Encourage not repining,
        But look for joy instead.


[Marsan, Henry DE, New Comic and Sentimental Singer's Journal, No.92, Vol.I, (New York: H. DE Marsan, 1868, p.701)]

No music yet though.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,J. Scott drinking instant coffee from red So
Date: 12 Aug 18 - 06:18 PM

(Hobson) "The Father of the Blues does not argue convincingly for a belief that the Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of the blues" Nor, more to the point, does it argue that at all. He talks in that book about hearing 12-bar "blues" in Indiana years before he settled in Mississippi, talks about all over the South, etc.

Handy loved epiphany stories; he had one for the day in the 1890s that he realized people liked ragtime better than classical, for example. Two of his epiphany stories involved the trio in Cleveland, MS led by Prince McCoy (born Louisiana) and the Tutwiler guitarist. (His story about waking up on a plantation to a blues guitarist may refer to a third incident.) His writings don't suggest that he thought either of those times was the first time he heard blues music. And when he talked about McCoy's band being the one that turned him on to _the commercial possibilities of folk music in live performance_ (which may have been largely how he felt that month in 1904 or whenever it was, and sounds good enough for an autobiography), that conflicted with his letter to Melicent Quinn that listed folk tunes his band used before he settled in Clarksdale.

"later generations of blues writers have chosen to privilege Handy’s Mississippi recollections over his other statements" Exactly. Cherrypicking whenever _Mississippi_ was what Handy mentioned, following A. Lomax's particular interest in Mississippi that Lomax had during the late '40s on, for decades (and fit with Alan having hit Mississippi in the early '40s, as part of a larger government study, rather than somewhere else, as _Alan_ having been doing something particularly _"important"_ relative to other regions and collectors).

"give the impression" Handy's own blues did have heavy folk origins. The notion that Handy was trying to trick us somehow when he associated folk music and blues with each other is a recent-years fiction among a few writers (influencing each other) that has zero behind it, zero, except it sounds interesting.

"suggests that both accounts cannot be true" Without looking at Hobson again, of course Handy could have heard both "Got No..." and later heard the different (and quite similar in some ways) Tutwiler song.

"I Got The Blues" by Maggio was published in 1908. He said he based the first strain in it, which is 12-bar blues, on an "I Got The Blues" he heard a black guitarist do in Louisiana on a levee in 1907. There were earlier published pieces that incorporated (what we came to call, after people began talking about "blues" music in about 1908*) 12-bar blues patterns but did not have "Blues" in their titles. Dr. Peter Muir found a particularly important one, “I Natur'ly Loves That Yaller Man” by John Wilson and Larry Deas, 1898, which doesn't use blues lyrics but uses a "Joe Turner"-family tune in its music. Interesting parallels to it in some ways are e.g. "You Needn't Come Home" written by Hugh Cannon, 1901 (12-bar throughout _and_ has first-person lyrics about romantic strife) and "Honky Tonky Monkey Rag" by Chris Smith, 1911 (12-bar-blues verse, 12-bar-blues chorus, like Deas and Wilson didn't bother to use blues lyrics, not the same number as Smith's "Down In Honky Tonky Town" aka "Down In Honky Tonk Town" aka "Honky Tonky").

Deas knew Perry Bradford and Handy, Wilson knew Willie The Lion Smith, etc. Deas volunteered to sing for the troops in Europe in World War I and was turned down specifically because he was black, so the great Elsie Janis sang blues there instead, and Deas signed up with the Jewish Welfare League and sang for the troops in the U.S.

Handy wasn't big on repetitive lyrics. Even though the black folk and semi-pro blues guitarists of e.g. about 1911-1913 liked BOTH AAAB (and similar) 16-bar and AAB (and similar) 12-bar as complately authentic blues (as the likes of Newman White and Howard Odum knew), Handy didn't keep interest in AAAB and similar alive as he published in the 1910s and instead followed the 12-bar tradition, and was hugely influential on other writers of blues. (Some pros such as Euday Bowman did like to go with the 16-bar-blues form, but their influence was a drop in the bucket compared to Handy's.)

Where is it said that Phil Jones (specifically) led a minstrelsy band? It wouldn't surprise me if Eliott Hurwitt could confirm that from unpublished stuff he's seen, but I don't recall seeing it.

Since you brought up Abbott and Seroff, their _Ragged But Right_ is terrific on the relationship between the earliest folk blues and the earliest stage blues, and their _The Original Blues..._ isn't terrific at all on that topic (which makes me think one of them had the last pass on one book and the other on the other).

*As it happens, black folk songs that we generally think of as blues songs and didn't have the word "blues" in their lyrics, along the lines of "Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home," can be traced back further, by years, than we can trace back the rise of interest among black folk musicians in the use of the word "blues" in them. Handy and a number of his contemporaries (such as Iowen Lawson, black, born about 1881 in KY) talked about that evolution in black folk music over the years. An example of Handy talking about it was when he called "Got No More..." a quote "blues" and then clarified that people weren't calling it a "blues" song then. Handy said people began talking about "blues" songs shortly before 1910, as all other evidence says -- and that doesn't somehow conflict with people like Gus Cannon and Elbert Bowman saying they heard what we think of as blues songs (such as the "Poor Boy, Long..." Cannon learned from Alec Lee) before about 1906, because a "Poor Boy, Long..." or "K.C. Moan" or "Chilly Winds" doesn't have to have the word "blues" in its lyrics for us to think of it as a blues song, or to have been a song that influenced the blues songs of e.g. 1908-1910 that did have the word "blues" in their lyrics.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Aug 18 - 06:20 PM

lo cup. (Well, off-brand cup that looks like it, you know.)


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Guest KH
Date: 12 Aug 18 - 07:08 PM

Hi J Scott

I've seen Muir's book. His argument that the 12-bar developed out of songs with the Frankie and Johnny shape is interesting, but it took me several serious attempts to get the hang of it!

Regarding Handy's self-contradictions, Hobson says this:

"In the New York Age December 7, 1916; in the piece called “How I Came to Write ‘Memphis Blues’” Handy tells the story of hearing the song that would inspire “The Memphis Blues” for the first time. The difference is that the location is changed from Tutwiler to “a plantation in Mississippi.” This earlier account of how Handy encountered the blues is, in the light of the possibility that the “Yellow Dog” may refer to the whole of the Yazoo Delta, far more credible."

and this:

"Handy claimed that it was the singer guitarist in Tutwiler (or on the plantation) that inspired his composition “The Memphis Blues” (1912), but one could question why Handy didn’t publish “Yellow Dog Blues” until 1914, some five years after writing “Mr Crump” in 1909. If these events of 1903 were indeed the inspiration for Handy to begin composing the blues, why did he not make reference to the “Yellow Dog” in his earlier compositions?"

This is pages 23/24 of the thesis.

On page 35 he quotes a Handy interview with Dorothy Scarborough and says:

"What are we to make of the apparent inconsistency of Handy’s accounts of having heard the blues? On the one hand he claimed in his autobiography that he first heard the song that would inspire him to compose “The Memphis Blues” in 1903 in Mississippi, whereas in a 1916 interview with Dorothy Scarborough he says that he heard blues songs such a “Joe Turner,” “ Careless Love,” and “Long Gone” as a child."

Not saying Hobson is right or wrong, just putting his ideas into the pot. And not at all intending to say blues did not come from what people were doing in communities, but tending to follow Hobson and others in saying we just don't know where it came from. Definitional problems don't help as has been stated. I'm with Elijah Wald on definitions I think.

The bit about Phil Evans leading a minstrelsy band is on page 37 of Hobson:

"When W. C. Handy recorded a version of “Got No More Home Than a Dog,” in 1938, he accompanied this one verse song with conventional I-IV-V harmony on guitar.131 If this is an accurate reflection of what he heard in 1893 then one has to ask what was the significance of hearing the guitarist at Tutwiler (or on a Mississippi plantation) ten years later. And are we to interpret this as a folk-song or as a minstrel song, given that Phil Jones led a minstrel band in Evansville?"

Another book that challenges some of the ways people have thought about blues is one by Karl Hagstrom Miller. Have you seen it?

It seems clear that people in the Delta were influenced by commercial music very early on. Like 1903 because a person called Peabody wrote about African American workers on his site at that date singing 'Goo Goo Eyes' and 'The Bully Song'. Apparently Bessie Smith was a big favourite with Son House!


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 12 Aug 18 - 08:31 PM

Hagstrom Miller's book is _the_ book I would recommend least about blues. I reviewed it for amazon as follows:

Karl Hagstrom Miller's _Segregating Sound_ contains some remarkable misinformation.

"Academic collectors were particularly slow to associate the blues with folklore." Sounds interesting, but it happens to be flatly false. John Lomax included the song "The Blues" in a list of "genuine Negro folk-songs" in print in 1912. Howard Odum published blues, such as "Frisco Rag-Time," in the _Journal Of American Folk-Lore_ in 1911. E.C. Perrow published blues lyrics in the same journal a few years later. Associating the blues with folklore is exactly what these people were doing.

"Prior to the mid-twenties, practically every commentator, with some minor exceptions, understood the blues as a commercial style." Sounds interesting, but it happens to be flatly false. _Reader's Guide To Literature, Volume V, 1919-1921_, 1922: "Blues (songs). See Folk songs, American." Famous, Southern-born black songwriter W.C. Handy wrote in 1919 about blues: "[I]t is from the levee camps, the mines, the plantations and other places where the laborer works that these snatches of melody originate." (Handy's interview with the periodical _Along Broadway_ in 1919 was consistent; the periodical wrote of the songs of the black cotton-picker and plowman and explained, "The story of Handy's success in putting these weird songs to music reads like a fairy tale.") Another famous, Southern-born black songwriter, Perry Bradford said in 1921: "[B]lues originated from old... folk lore songs...." Famous, Southern-born black songwriter James Weldon Johnson agreed in 1922. As noted above, John Lemax understood "The Blues" as a folk song as of 1912. Howard Odum understood blues material he'd collected as folk material well before the mid-'20s. (So did his wife. Seriously, she published independently of him, different blues material, and did.) Carl Van Vechten characterized a blues as a folk song in 1917. _Current Opinion_ wrote about "... widespread discussion of the origin of the 'blues,' a type of folksong..." in 1919. Etc.

"The blues were a successful, almost viral, product of the music industry and professional songwriters." Sounds interesting, but it happens to be flatly false. There is no credible evidence, zero, of any pro writers creating blues songs as early as, e.g., the folk blues song Elbert Bowman recalled he heard black workers singing by 1905, a variant of "K.C. Moan." (Bowman recalled well that the period was 1903-1905, because 1903-1905 was when blacks came through his small, heavily white town building a railroad line. His recollection fits great with those of others, such as the recollection of Emmet Kennedy regarding a variant of "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home." Not all blues music was 12-bar, and not all 12-bar music was blues music; e.g., "Stack-a-Lee," which existed by 1897, isn't a blues song.)

"Perhaps the most dramatic reinterpretation of the blues as folk songs came from the sociologists Howard Odum and Guy Johnson. They collaborated in 1925 to publish The Negro and His Songs, a large collection of African American religious and secular selections, many of which were culled from Odum’s previous academic journal articles. They equated reimagining pop tunes as folk songs 'blues' with 'popular hits' and emphatically insisted that they were 'not folk songs.'" Nope, that's an inaccurate description of what Odum and Johnson wrote in that book. And Odum thought in 1911 (and in 1908) that the folk blues he had collected in 1905-1908 were folk songs, which would be why he published them in 1911 in a journal called _The Journal Of American Folk-Lore_.

"In newspaper articles written between 1916 and 1919... [n]either Handy nor writers profiling the composer identified the blues as folk music." Nope, see e.g. the two 1919 Handy-related articles I mentioned above.

"W.C. Handy was more responsible than anyone for establishing the blues as folk music." The only people who ever "established" blues music as folk music were the black folk musicians who invented blues music in the first place.

Amazing."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 12 Aug 18 - 09:52 PM

I agree with Muir that the most obvious connection of the blues music of about 1908 to something else earlier is a connection to the bad man ballads. Regarding IV-IV-IV-I vs. IV-IV-I-I in particular (something he and I happen to have been very interested in for years), I think he underestimates -- roughly speaking -- over how long a period both of those chord progressions were found in both non-blues and blues, but if we just accept that
-- IV-IV-I-I and IV-IV-IV-I were both found in bad man ballads and
-- IV-IV-I-I and IV-IV-IV-I were both found in blues (along with e.g. IV-IV-IV-IV in bad man ballads and blues also),
I agree with him that the 12-bar bad man ballads seem to be the closest earlier non-blues link to the blues songs of about 1908.

Something Muir doesn't address IIRC but I think we should is that there seems to have been a transition from a fad (among black folk musicians) for third-person bad man ballads to a fad (among ditto) for first-person bad man ballads, the songs similar to "Hop Joint," to a fad for first-person blues (among ditto). If you research when the songs most similar to "Hop Joint" are from, it's about 1904 era or something like that.

And then imo it's a good idea, looking at all those songs, to look at bragging lyrics vs. vulnerable lyrics, because the bragging lyrics of the first-person bad man songs (in which the first person _was the bad man_) had to give way to more vulnerable lyrics to be typical blues lyrics, and we can find examples of both in the same song that seem to involve that gradual transition. Admitting you have the blues but qualifying that with the claim that you are too mean to cry, e.g., sits on the fence of that bragging-lyrics trend and that vulnerable-lyrics trend.

S. Calt didn't write much worth reading imo but I do like his point that a typical purpose of vulnerable lyrics about e.g. having no mother or sister would be to get money into the hat on the street. (The expression "I got the blues" was extremely well-known in the U.S., e.g. to white people.) I believe there were songs like that continuously during the 1890s to 1910, but also believe that the fads described above ran in that basic order.

I don't understand Hobson's reasoning about plantation vs. train station and supposed credibility.

The Handy piece that was most closely related to the "Yellow Dog" song he heard a guitarist do was his "Yellow Dog Rag" aka "Yellow Dog Blues," a blues; "Memphis Blues" was inspired by the Cleveland, MS band, per Handy's sideman of the time Stack Mangham. (That Handy would do one thing in 1920 and another in 1916 and another in 1914 and another in 1912, in all of those cases drawing on memories of before 1912, the year he turned 39, means little in of itself imo. It's possible that the only part of the "Memphis Blues" tune that Handy heard in Cleveland was the non-blues "mama don't allow"-type part. Also, there's smoke, but not fire that I recall seeing, that Paul Wyer was annoyed that he cowrote "Memphis Blues" and didn't get credit for it. We know Handy used people, because e.g. when Douglas Williams brought "Hooking Cow Blues," lyrics and music, to Handy, it "needed" Handy to add some musical sound effects and become a cowriting credit for Handy, and there's a parallel case to the Williams that Handy did to another black blues songwriter around the same time, I forget who. Jelly Roll Morton claimed that Handy learned "Jogo Blues," which evolved into "St. Louis Blues," from one of Handy's guitarists -- albeit Morton's stories were very often true and very often not true.)

(Hobson) "he claimed in his autobiography that he first heard... in 1903" _Father Of The Blues_ does NOT say he heard the Tutwiler guitarist in 1903.

"Joe Turner" Handy did claim to Scarborough in about 1922 (IIRC a modern-day writer accidentally reassigned the Handy/S. interview from about 1922 to about 1916 and that caught on among some writers) that he'd heard "Joe Turner" thirty years earlier or more, but 1891-1892 is when he was 18-19, and 1891-1892 fits with when Turney had already been doing that job for years (he did it from about 1882 to 1900, contrary to old it-must-have-been-whenever-his-brother-was-governor b.s.ing), and we know three-line stanzas were around in black and white music before Turney got that job.

Handy acknowledged that the British-derived 19th-century folk song "Careless Love" itself wasn't a blues song -- as opposed to the way he rewrote it to incorporate blues material. "Long Gone" isn't a blues either. Most black folk music, "John Henry," "Long Gone," all that kind of stuff, most black folk music out there _wasn't_ blues as of about 1905.

Handy described "Joe Turner" as perhaps the earliest blues song best he could tell, so I think sometimes supposed inconsistencies by Handy are being imagined while not reading him carefully enough. _Father Of The Blues_ makes clear, if you read the whole book, that the Tutwiler song was not the first blues he heard, by years. It uses the Tutwiler song for an epiphany story about realizing black folk music could make good money on stage for the guy who had arrived in Clarksdale hoping to become the black Sousa (and again, really he had used folk music for his band before Clarksdale, as he listed to Melicent Quinn).

Elijah is great on some things, and describing the historical early interrelation of folk blues and stage blues, he certainly was _not_ great at that last time we talked. He likes that modern-day myth that stage musicians helped invent the earliest blues music, the modern-day myth that no one, including him every time I ask him to, can provide ANY credible evidence for.

The Peabody article is worth reading, as is what the Thomas brothers heard by then in Texas, as is the 1903 book by Anne Hobson of Alabama. The reason Hobson and the Thomas brothers have been forgotten relative to mentioning Peabody (even among writers who haven't read his article) is the cherrypicking thing: Peabody was in Mississippi and Hobson and the Thomases weren't.

How bad blues scholarship has generally been can be illustrated with Son House (a great artist): he took up guitar in about 1925, as Son said but people like to not mention, and learned slide from Rube Lacey -- who wasn't from the Delta -- as Son said and people like to not mention, and Son was about 1 year old when Gus Cannon learned "Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home," and about 3 years old when Elbert Bowman heard black construction workers sing a "K.C. Moan" variant, and about 5 years old when Wade Ward first heard "Chilly Winds," and about 6 years old when A. Maggio's band was performing "I Got The Blues" in Louisiana, and 7 when E. Tosso's band in Louisiana was too, and 8 when Johnnie Woods was using a blues on stage in Florida, and people go to Son House's recollections because they want to know how blues music started.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: Thompson
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 02:04 AM

Is this thread an attempt to wrest the cultural credit for blues (and probably jazz, the greatest American contribution to world culture) from black people? Good luck with that, if so.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 04:13 AM

"an attempt to" No one in the thread has written anything suggesting that.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 04:37 AM

Carl Sandburg had an important interest in blues, and he and the Lomaxes were friendly (e.g. Sandburg and J. Lomax were together when they heard Martinez sing his blues in Austin, included in the Songbag), and Alan may have been influenced by Sandburg on this stuff, because Sandburg had a "Mississippi Blues" he liked to perform himself and talk about as early. But of course Sandburg didn't promote the Mississippi myth the massively influential way Alan did, we know that.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 08:34 AM

Hi Joseph

I think you misrepresent Hagstrom Miller's book. You seem to have done this by pulling a quotation out of context, and, it would seem, by completely misrepresenting what the book does and the quality of its content.

It doesn't seem reasonable to accuse Miller of getting the early story of folklorists wrong when it was as a result of reading that book that I read not only the 1903 Peabody article but also the first ever edition of "The American Journal of Folklore". Miller discusses Peabody in some detail.

What Miller does in fact is go back to the start of 'folklore' studies and situate them in the context of Jim Crow legislation and a segregated society. A society in which views about the different development of different 'races' were used to justify discrimination and segregation on the basis of 'race'. Folklore studies were part of this. This point is worth making and Miller does it well.


Here are some extracts from the first ever edition of the Journal of American Folklore, with my emphasis on certain words:

"Many of the best Scotch and Irish ballad.singers, who have preserved, in their respective dialects, songs which were once the property of the English-speaking *race*, have emigrated to this coun try; and it is possible that something of value may be obtained from one or other of these sources."

"It is also to be wished that thorough studies were made of negro music and songs. Such inquiries are becoming difficult, and in a few years will be impossible. Again, the great mass of beliefs and superstitions which exist among this people need attention, and present interesting and important psychological problems, connected with the history of a *race* who, for good or ill, are henceforth an indissoluble part of the body politic of the United States."

" There is, no doubt, another side. The habits and ideas of *prim itive races* include much that seems to us cruel and immoral, much that it might be thought well to leave unrecorded. But this would be a superficial view. What is needed is not an anthology of customs and beliefs, but a complete representation of the *savage mind* in its rudeness as well as its intelligence, its licentiousness as well as its fidelity. "

To spell it out, the early folklorists saw the music of African Americans as providing an insight into the minds of people of a different race. Miller discusses this sort of stuff in some detail. I hope that sets the record straight on his work.

Peabody is indeed worth reading as it explains how, in 1903, workers sang the commercial songs "Goo Goo Eyes" and "The Bully Song" for hours. Peabody actually moans about this, as he doesn't want to hear about it; it's not what he is interested in.

Luckily for us, he did record the information, so we can see how, as Wald has suggested, commercial music did influence what African Americans were singing at work in the Delta at that period of time. Where Wald is helpful, I believe, is in pointing out that people who came to be seen later as in some sense 'folk musicians', such as Robert Johnson and the Chatmon family, were, or aspired to be commercial stage musicians.

You wrote about Wald:

"He likes that modern-day myth that stage musicians helped invent the earliest blues music,"

I wondered what dates you were thinking of for 'earliest blues music' and also what your definition might be. Interested also in some specific examples of where Wald incorrectly states that a piece of early blues was influenced by 'stage musicians'.

Interesting discussion.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: KarenH
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 11:01 AM

Hi Joseph

I now move onto the Odum articles of 1911.

We can see how these are slap bang in the middle of a sub-culture that saw negro song as a guide to the race and its psychology/mental habits. Again, the emphases are mine:

"My study of negro folk-songs included originally the religious and secular songs of the Southern negroes; analysis of their content; a discussion of the *mental imagery, style and habit,* reflected in them; and the word-vocabulary of the collection of songs."

Though he says he has to leave out most of the analysis of the mental style and habit of "the negro" in these pieces, some remains. Examples:

"In addition to the words of the wandering man, this song gives also an insight into the reckless traits of *the negro woman*, which are clearly pictured in many of the negro love-songs."

" Murder, conviction, courts, and fines are thus seen to be common themes along with the general results that would be expected to follow the use of whiskey and weapons; and just as *the knife, razor, and " special " are common companions with the negro, and indicate much of his criminal nature, so his songs boast of crimes which he thinks of and sometimes commits*"

There is frequent use of the generalising 'the negro', what today we might call 'othering'.

What there is not in these early pieces is any explicit mention of 'the blues'. I have read that it was not until later that Odum started using this term, despite all the time he had spent gathering tunes. That in itself is interesting.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 07:20 PM

Hi Karen,

I don't think any of the quoting of Hagstrom Miller I did in the amazon review took what he was claiming "out of context." He made outrageous claims, which some readers thought sounded very interesting, because they would be very interesting if they were true. That you learned about Peabody's article because of Hagstrom Miller is cool and has no bearing on whether e.g. "Academic collectors were particularly slow to associate the blues with folklore" is true (which it isn't at all, it's ridiculous).

"I wondered what dates you were thinking of for 'earliest blues music' and also what your definition might be." The earliest decade we have good evidence for what I call blues music, which is very similar to what most blues fans call blues music, is the 1890s. For my rough definition of blues music see my post of 28 May 15 - 12:54 PM.

"What there is not in these early pieces is any explicit mention of 'the blues'." "The blues" are mentioned in two of the songs (from 1905-1908) that Odum gave in 1911.

"othering" You seem to be interested in the fact that whites born in about 1885 tended to say lots of stuff that was stereotypical and the like. They sure did. The black street guitarists Odum met were different from him in some ways and similar to him in others, and I think we can all agree that his perception of that situation would have been partly right and partly wrong. The relevance of all that to his ability to transcribe a lyric is none at all.

"commercial music did influence what African Americans were singing at work in the Delta at that period of time." Who disputes that blacks in the Delta and the like knew commercial numbers in e.g. 1901 and 1891? Not me. I (and basically everyone before Calt, who unfortunately Elijah read) dispute that pro musicians helped invent blues music in particular, because there happens to be zero credible evidence of _that_, and Handy and his peers were continually saying that they were inspired in their written blues by earlier folk blues music culture, which was mostly contrary to their selfish interest, but they were being honest, and (to make one comparison that there are plenty of parallel examples to) the 1905 that Elbert Bowman heard a "K.C. Moan" variant by from black folk singers is five years before Johnnie Woods was singing blues on stage in Florida.

"such as Robert Johnson" Elijah is _great_ on Robert Johnson in his 1930s context. Studying the 1930s isn't a way to research e.g. what black folk and stage musicians were doing in 1905-1910, as Elijah's ignorance about the latter topic shows. Elijah's website currently still says (even though I've been giving him heads up for over a decade) "first 'blues' was a black pop style... it retroactively became a folk style...." As with those Hagstrom Miller quotes, that has the virtue of sounding really interesting, and the drawback of being complete baloney.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 07:25 PM

"first [blues] was a black pop style..." is what I tried to type.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 07:38 PM

An easy way to look at some of the early stuff is just to look at the "Joe Turner" and "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home" families, look at what people like Handy, Gus Cannon, Emmet Kennedy, and Roy Carew said about songs like those, and then ask yourself if e.g. Abbott and Seroff have ever come up with any stage performances of blues that early. No they haven't, by years (even though their _Original Blues..._ is misleading on that topic anyway -- their _Ragged But Right_ isn't misleading on that topic, happily). Johnnie Woods in 1910 and Tom Young in 1910 and Kidd Love in 1910 is really interesting (seriously), as is, say, Anthony Maggio in 1908, but the idea that 1910 or 1908 can trump e.g. 1905 is chronologically impossible.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 08:08 PM

The songs with quote "blues" in their lyrics from 1905-1908 that Odum included in the 1911 article are "Look’d Down De Road" and "Knife-Song." He also included e.g. "Thought I Heard That K.C. Whistle Blow."

From "Knife-Song":
"'Fo' long, honey, 'fo' long, honey
'Fo' long, honey, 'fo' long, honey
Law-d, l-a-w-d, l-a-w-d!
...
I got de blues an' can't be satisfied,
Brown-skin woman cause of it all.
Law-d, l-a-w-d, l-a-w-d!"

From "Early In De Mornin'":
"Well I woke up this mornin' -- couldn't keep from cryin'
Well I woke up this mornin' -- couldn't keep from cryin'
Well I woke up this mornin' -- couldn't keep from cryin'
For thinkin' about -- that babe o' mine"

From "Joe Turner":
"Come like he ain't never come befo'
Come like he ain't never come befo'
Come like he ain't never come befo'"

From "Thought I Heard That K.C. Whistle Blow":
"Blow lak' she never blow befo',
Blow lak' she never blow befo',
Lawd, she blow lak' she never blow befo'"

Etc.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 09:16 PM

The point I was making is that one cannot use Odum's work of 1911 as an example of a folklorist discussing blues as folk music, as I understood you to have done, because Odum himself never mentions blues as a type of music in his pieces of that date, though he does discuss what he calls the 'self pity' of 'the negro' several times. I apologise for not making that clear.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Aug 18 - 09:32 PM

Whether Odum had heard of quote "blues songs" or "blues music" as of 1911 (likely not) is a different issue from whether it's "an example of a folklorist discussing blues as folk music," which it is.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 14 Aug 18 - 06:40 AM

Hi Joseph

Interesting discussion.

I thought we were discussing the quotation to the effect that "Academic collectors were particularly slow to associate the blues with folklore"

Odum did not discuss 'blues' in 1911. Therefore, he was not discussing it as if it was 'folk music'.


As Miller points out, and as his work demonstrates, Odum was working within a social-anthropological paradigm in which the music of 'the negro' was seen as providing information about the nature of the 'race'.

What Miller does is demonstrate how this early paradigm was later replaced by a 'folkloric paradigm' which took a different view of the music.

As I have said before, it is a travesty of Miller's book to point to bits and pieces in which people you call 'folklorists' show awareness of a song which you categorise as 'blues' and then claim that this shows Miller to be ignorant or mistaken. It is especially odd to do this when Miller himself discusses most of the examples you appear to think he has omitted.

Interesting discussion, thank you.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 14 Aug 18 - 06:58 AM

Hi Joseph

I have now located the quotation which so exercised you, in the middle of Chapter Eight. Miller points out that there was a change in attitudes. As you may know, and as the quotations I have given from the first ever edition of the American Journal of Folklore demonstrate, early workers, including the famous Child (and one of his disciples was involved at the start of the AJG) saw 'folk' as a degenerate version of something much older and better. Part of Miller's argument is that later on, this degenerate view was replaced by a view that 'folk' was something communally created, a bottom-up view rather than a top-down one.

The quotation comes in the middle of this interesting, well-researched and thoughtful chapter, and, as I re-read it, I feel even more certain that in taking it out of context you are unfair to Miller and misrepresent his argument.

In a sense, perhaps Miller's argument might be, albeit grossly simplified, that one sort of 'racicialised' thinking replaced another at the time of the shift in approach which he describes.

The best thing for people to do is to read the book. It is well worth the effort.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 14 Aug 18 - 07:05 AM

Sorry, typo in post above, should be AJF not AJG.

For example, the chapter in question discusses the work and attitudes of John Lomax in some detail, pointing out flaws in his research methods and discussing his relationship with Leadbelly.

It seems plain enough that Odum and Lomax had different approaches to the music of African Americans of the deep south, and probably to those people themselves, and that is what the chapter explicates. However, for Miller, each of the two different approaches has its downside. Amen to that.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 14 Aug 18 - 02:39 PM

"discussing... 'Academic collectors were particularly slow to associate the blues with folklore'" "Thought I Heard That K.C. Whistle Blow" e.g. falls within what we call blues songs. Odum associated that blues song with folklore as of 1911 (and as of 1908).

"was later replaced by a 'folkloric" Odum was collecting folk music in 1905-1908 and thought he was collecting folk music in 1905-1908.

"people you call 'folklorists'" They were folklorists.

"later on, this degenerate view was replaced by a view that 'folk' was something communally created" I don't recommend taking Hagstrom Miller identifying supposed trends seriously.* Lots of people thought lots of things about folk music during e.g. 1880 to 1929.

*If you want to understand why, you can ask yourself whether there is really anything in my review of his book, in which I point out outrageous claims he made, outrageously wrong, that is incorrect. (Howard Odum and John Lomax were folklorists, e.g., so that wouldn't be it.)


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 15 Aug 18 - 07:17 AM

Joseph

You may not remember Hagstrom Miller identifying different ideological and intellectual approaches taken during the 20th century to the music sung by African Americans, but that is a main thrust of his book, especially the chapter whence you took the quotation in question. On that basis, I stand by my view that you misrepresent the book in taking this quotation out of context.


I am particularly surprised at you not picking up on this as you seem to be interested in the way that one particular idea about this music took a hold, ie the idea that the Delta was the source of blues music.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 15 Aug 18 - 07:52 AM

Joseph

Maybe one way forward might be for you to look at the whole chapter again and then present your view on the main idea/argument that is made in it?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 15 Aug 18 - 10:47 AM

I threw the book away. All the quotes are claims of fact. And all are not factual. Together they represent examples of how bad the book is.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 16 Aug 18 - 06:03 AM

What a pity! It's an excellent and well-researched book. The account it gives of minstrelsy and coon songs and how the stereotypes within these musical genres were backed up by the analyses of the early racist social anthropology as exemplified by Odum gave way to the later 'folklorist' approach to the music of African Americans is convincing and interesting.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 16 Aug 18 - 01:37 PM

"gave way to the later 'folklorist' approach" Huh? Odum _was_ a folklorist. People were talking about black American folk music in the late 1800s.

The idea that a white guy born about 1885 who hung out with black street guitarists because he wanted their music to be appreciated and preserved "exemplifies" racism, if that's what you really believe, is very misguided.

"well-researched" Paul Vernon, the founder of Blues & Rhythm, called H-M's book as a whole offensive "bilge," and when I read that, I had independently come to the same conclusion as him, it's offensive bilge. He wrote that H-M employed "selective use of quotes to support pre-determined views," and it's worthwhile to compare that to e.g. the paragraph in my review that includes a mention of the Reader's Guide To Literature. H-M (unlike e.g. Alan Lomax) writes clean, pretty sentences, so when he looks through newspaper articles and finds articles that line up with what he has in his head (however contrary to reality that is), and doesn't give us the articles that don't, it's like a Trojan horse, you might look at how well those sentences read and actually believe him.

Writing "Academic collectors were particularly slow to associate the blues with folklore" is preposterous and "Prior to the mid-twenties, practically every commentator, with some minor exceptions, understood the blues as a commercial style" is preposterous and "The blues were a successful, almost viral, product of the music industry and professional songwriters" is preposterous, as it happens, really. You would be wise to not trust someone willing to write the preposterous. Including trusting him about e.g. Odum.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 19 Aug 18 - 07:33 AM

Joseph

'Including trusting him about e.g. Odum'

On the contrary, as I have demonstrated, I read Odum for myself.

I trust Odum on Odum. I agree absolutely with Miller in his view that Odum was working in a sort of social darwinist 'anthropoligical' approach, claiming to be 'scientific' in his comments on the negro 'race' while in fact drawing largely on stereotypes of much minstrelsy and the coon songs. He did not think of himself as a 'folklorist', and this is demonstrated in the opening to his 1911 articles, in which he explains that he has left out a lot of his thinking to suit the context in which his articles are to be published. However, enough of it was left in to demonstrate his attitudes at the time. It is said that he later changed his view and attitudes.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 19 Aug 18 - 05:18 PM

Odum was a folklorist. Anyone who collected enough folklore (and for black secular folk songs of about 1907 he is the top of the heap) and presented it to the _Journal Of American Folk Lore_ so that other people interested in folklore could study it was doing the study of folklore.

You seem to honestly believe that Odum's attitudes are relevant to our discussion here of my review of K H M's book. My review of K H M's book is accurate, and you bringing up Odum's attitudes over and over doesn't somehow change that.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,KarenH
Date: 21 Aug 18 - 09:11 PM

YESSIR! MESSAGE RECEIVED SIR! PARDON ME FOR BREATHING, SIR"


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 23 Aug 18 - 02:08 AM

"Sandburg had a 'Mississippi Blues' he liked to perform himself and talk about as early." The Bloomington Indiana _Daily Student_ wrote of Sandburg in 1921 that he considered the "Mississippi Blues" he performed "the original ancestor of our modern epidemic of blues."


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: leeneia
Date: 25 Aug 18 - 03:04 PM

I found an interesting article about the blues in 1903 here:

the yellow dog


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 26 Aug 18 - 05:19 PM

Handy's 1916 article said he was awakened on a plantation by a guitarist playing with a knife, and his 1926 book said the guitarist was "outside a country railroad station" and the playing compelled him "to go out, question the singer and jot down his tune as something of beauty...." That anecdote -- whether it was in 1904 or whenever it really was -- was years after he had already heard "Joe Turner" and "Got No More Home Than A Dog."

"few people knew it by that name" We have no evidence that anyone knew it by that name then.

"Texas, Louisiana, the Piedmont region, and the Mississippi Delta" Arbitrary supposed narrowings were discussed above in this thread. Handy said he heard "Got No More Home Than A Dog" in the 1890s in Indiana.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: leeneia
Date: 27 Aug 18 - 12:10 AM

Back of a knife, eh? I can picture somebody using the back edge of a butter knife. Have you ever tried it?


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 27 Aug 18 - 12:14 AM

Yeah, in about 1985 I was pretty good.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: leeneia
Date: 27 Aug 18 - 10:00 PM

Nice to hear. I bet it sounds better than a plastic pill bottle slipped over a finger.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: leeneia
Date: 27 Aug 18 - 10:07 PM

Yep, it does.

brooklyn is the height of civilization


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 20 Sep 18 - 01:46 AM

Some interesting origins discussion here: Songs of Mississippi floods.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 20 Sep 18 - 06:34 AM

Well, I almost feel that early Delta blues sounds like it should be the oldest form. It has a primitive sound close to what we are told is one of the main predecessors of the blues i.e. the work song.
For example, imagine in the 1930s, somebody was enquiring where jazz originated and somebody said, "Well, I believe the most primitive form of jazz is to be found in New Orleans.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 20 Sep 18 - 02:56 PM

"... early Delta blues... has a primitive sound..."

People have associated the (artificial) notion of Delta blues with Charlie Patton's growly voice because he happens to be the most notable blues singer from the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta born before 1895. But we don't have reason to believe his style was particularly representative of his Delta peers of 1910-1919, which was 10 to 20 years before he began recording. E.g., James McCoy was about the same age as Patton, Son House learned "My Black Mama" from McCoy, and House said McCoy sang similarly to Skip James.

We also don't have any better reason to say Patton sounded primitive than to say e.g. Henry Thomas (Texas) and Peg Leg Howell (Georgia) sounded primitive.

We can identify a significant link between work songs and blues songs, across the South, but Patton's repertoire isn't somehow special to identifying that and the Delta isn't somehow special to identifying that.


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Subject: RE: Who started the Delta blues myth?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 20 Sep 18 - 02:58 PM

10 to 19 years, if I can subtract...


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