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While musicologists define the blues in terms of microtones and twelve-measure patterns (in contrast to the eight, sixteen, or thirty-32 bars in early jazz and ragtime), the average listener recognizers this musical form by such features as its triple-line stanzas, with repetition of the first line, bottleneck-guitar tecnique, and charatteristic melodic effects, such as flattened (or diminished) “blue notes”, which produce the sad and mournful sound that complements the subject matter of the song. The personal, melancholic themes typically deal with the trials and tribulations of daily living, and, says Moa Asch of Folkways Records, “the blues goes back as far as people have known trouble”.

Most Scholars trace its roots to Africa; when blacks were transported to America as slaves, rudimentaryblues-related “hollers” were vocalized bt Southern field hands as they labored on another man’s land or announced their homecoming. The blues was primarily a vocal form of expression sung “by people to work to or by to make the work easier”, states Erik Darling. “There was no real authorship of importance – the most important thing was: ‘God, how are we going to get throught the day’, or ‘Let’s make the work easier’”.

Around the turn of this century, widespread attention was brought to the blues by the “Father of the Blues” or the “St. Louis Bluesman” W.C.Handy, whose “Manie’s Blues” (published in 1909) marked the beginning of the recorded history of the blues. The pure blues enjoyed its heyday in the 1920s and was a major influence on the American jazz movement.

Various parts of the United States became centers for the three basic types of blues: classic, country, and city. Classic blues singers were generally accompanied by jazz musicians, and some of the most prominent names which fall into this category are Bessie Smith, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Memphis Minnie, and Victoria Spivey. The Mississippi Delta has long been the heart-land of the country or black secular blues, which is generally considered the forerunner of modern “race” (a term once used to distinguish black from white country music) and rhythm-and-blues styles which, in turn, became underlying influences on rock’n’roll and pop music. Country blues musicians emphasized the role of guitar by using the instrument as a “second voice” to accentuate the subtle vocal nuances expressed by the singer.

Among the numerous country bluesman who have played an important part in the develpment of American music are Sleepy John Estes, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Big Joe Williams. (Leadbelly and Sonny Terry are sometimes distinguished as representatives of the “folk” blues sound – country blues influenced by white country and folk music).

Big Bill Broonzy, John Lee Hooker and Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins typify city bluesmen who play both old-style blues and its more recent (mid-forties) cousin, rhythm-and-blues. Among the white urban interpreters of the blues who began to emerge on the music scene in the sixiest are John Hammond, Jr., Dave Van Ronk, Mark Spoelstra, Eric Von Schmidt and Bonnie Raitt.