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Who started the Delta blues myth?

GUEST,Joseph Scott 27 May 15 - 05:40 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 27 May 15 - 05:45 PM
Wesley S 27 May 15 - 05:45 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 27 May 15 - 05:53 PM
GUEST 27 May 15 - 06:08 PM
Jack Campin 27 May 15 - 06:10 PM
Lighter 27 May 15 - 06:44 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 27 May 15 - 07:25 PM
Richard Bridge 27 May 15 - 07:52 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 27 May 15 - 08:05 PM
Stanron 27 May 15 - 09:32 PM
GUEST 27 May 15 - 09:59 PM
Richard Bridge 27 May 15 - 11:43 PM
Joe Offer 28 May 15 - 01:59 AM
Mr Red 28 May 15 - 04:20 AM
GUEST,Phil 28 May 15 - 05:35 AM
GUEST,Dave 28 May 15 - 06:04 AM
GUEST,gillymor 28 May 15 - 08:22 AM
GUEST 28 May 15 - 09:13 AM
GUEST,leeneia 28 May 15 - 10:34 AM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 12:36 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 12:42 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 12:54 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 01:16 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 01:33 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 01:36 PM
Lighter 28 May 15 - 01:50 PM
meself 28 May 15 - 02:23 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 02:33 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 02:47 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 02:51 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 28 May 15 - 02:52 PM
GUEST 28 May 15 - 02:55 PM
Joe Offer 28 May 15 - 07:30 PM
GUEST 28 May 15 - 08:05 PM
Stanron 28 May 15 - 08:35 PM
pattyClink 28 May 15 - 09:41 PM
Joe Offer 28 May 15 - 10:29 PM
GUEST 29 May 15 - 12:19 AM
Joe Offer 29 May 15 - 12:43 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 29 May 15 - 05:55 AM
Lighter 29 May 15 - 11:43 AM
Lighter 29 May 15 - 11:56 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 29 May 15 - 12:52 PM
GUEST,Etymologophile 29 May 15 - 01:04 PM
GUEST,Etymologophile 29 May 15 - 01:20 PM
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GUEST,Joseph Scott 29 May 15 - 03:16 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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