Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Got the Blues

I have long had an aversion to white people playing the blues, and it has taken me a long time to figure out why. For one thing, the blues is far from my favorite style of music; what I most respond to is songwriting - chord changes, lyrics and melody - and blues songs tend to be fairly repetitive. Blues aficionados listen for vocal performance, which I quite like, and instrumental pyrotechnics, which ain't my cup of meat.

But you get Muddy Waters playing the blues, and that sounds pretty good. You hear the ache and desperation in both the singing and the playing, the pain of being a big music star and still having to paint the ceiling of the Chess studio. You don't get that with white people. White people aren't oppressed enough. Especially the ones who choose to sing the blues - they're too happy to sing the blues. Muddy sang the blues because he had no choice; white people sing the blues because they like to.

Sure, you get your occasional Allman Brothers, scraggly white trash from the non-Atlanta parts of Georgia, who are downtrodden enough for this music. If you shoot yourself in the foot on your eighteenth birthday to get out of going to Vietnam, then you really might know what it's like to have the blues. Or if you're as much of a mess as Janis Joplin was.

Yeah, I know, Eric Clapton playing "Crossroads," but at that velocity and volume, it's turned the corner from blues into heavy metal. What you usually get when white people play the blues is more like Jonny Lang's "Anything Is Possible," which only could have been written by a white person. When you got no job and no money and your woman done left you, very little is possible. I advise switching to power pop.


Innocent Bystander said...

Question: in the context of your feelings about blues, where does jazz fit in, in relation to blues? Are they related, and if so how, or not?

Kinky Paprika said...

Another drawback of honky blues is the tendency of white artists to claim songwriting credit and royalties on (a) songs written by black performers; or (b) songs and motifs descended from the black tradition, albeit predating any specific author.

Tom Nawrocki said...

I don't feel qualified to talk about jazz at all. I don't have a natural ear for it, and I know very little about it.

For all I know, white people can play jazz just fine.

Anonymous said...

I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion but if one is so completely ignorant about music as yourself why would they want to blog about it? This white/black blues idea is so laden with cliches, stereotypes and false assumptions-after all this time it's just a non issue. There are people on Mongolia playing really great blues for Chrissakes.

Tom Nawrocki said...

You're right. I'm going to kill off OPC before I embarrass myself further.

Anonymous said...