Delta Blues

 The first sounds of the Delta blues were the poverty-stricken African American’s soulful expressions of his life, love and everything else under the sun. While he was toiling in the plantations in the Mississippi Delta region, he found solace and inspiration in his music, little knowing that soon the whole world would start singing the ‘blues’ with him.

The Beginning

During mid to late 1800s, the Deep South was home to hundreds of Black sharecroppers, who first started singing what is today legendary as the Delta blues. Those earliest blues tunes were later heard through recordings made in 1920s and '30s, in Southern states like Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and others. The music soon became an integral part of the cultural movement in the Delta region, and today the history of the South is considered incomplete without referring to the Delta blues. The sounds of the Delta blues predominantly include the harmonica, the guitar and the cigar box guitar, with soulful vocals that range from the passionate to the poignant.

The Men, Women and Their Music

The 1920s saw the first race records of the Delta blues in the stores. Some of the earliest recordings were of Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey and Robert Wilkins, by Victor Records, and Garfield Akers and Big Joe Williams, by Brunswick/Vocalion Records. Paramount recorded both Son House and Charley Patton in 1930, and subsequently the father-son duo John and Alan Lomax made thousands of Delta blues recordings, most of them housed at the Smithsonian Institution today. Delta Blues artists moved to other cities and introduced different styles of blues music, like the Chicago blues started by Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf. Lady singers too have made ample contribution to this form of music, especially in the big cities. They usually teamed up with their real-life partners while performing, like  Geeshie Wiley sang with Papa Charlie McCoy, Memphis Minnie crooned along with Kansas Joe McCoy, and Bertha Lee often sang with her husband, the legendary Charlie Patton.

And The Music Lives On

One of the greatest Delta blues albums ever released is King of the Delta Blues Singers by Robert Johnson produced by Columbia records in 1961. This was the very first album that made it to the “Blues Hall of Fame”. This compilation album features at number 27 on “the 500 greatest albums of all time” list of Rolling Stone magazine, while Mojo magazine gave it sixth place on its “100 records that changed the world” list.

Noted author Ted Gioia has penned this wonderful book titled Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. Gioia shares with his readers priceless details of the music from the Mississippi Delta. He gives detailed accounts of the life and music of legends like Charley Patton, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and many others, and recounts how the sounds left the South and traveled far and wide.

Legends of the Delta Blues is a 1995 documentary film available on DVD, which has rare footage of both performances and private moments from the lives of four Delta blues greats - Bukka White, John Lee Hooker, Son House and Johnny Shines.

Popularly called “the king of blues festivals”, the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival is the second oldest blues festival in the United States (the oldest is the San Francisco Blues Festival). What started out as a community gathering today brings together blues fans from all across the globe.   

The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale is a must visit for all blues fans. It is the place where the Delta blues history and heritage has been preserved, and has attracted visitors like celebrated musicians Paul Simon and Eric Clapton.

So the Blues Backing Tracks in the Delta Blues section are mainly acoustic guitar-driven and bear a resemblance to this fantastic ‘early’ Blues style! Enjoy!


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