CLEVELAND, Miss.–The blues was born in Mississippi, but the blues your hear in the Delta now is in some ways a long ways away from where it all started.
So, how did it change? Why did it change? Don Allan “Chip” Mitchell, is an English professor at Delta State in Cleveland, just a few miles away from acoustic blues central, Dockery Plantation. He said the change came out of necessity.
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“I hate to keep going back to Muddy Waters, but Muddy realized that to pursue his music he could not stay in Mississippi. So he went north, first to St. Louis, but he didn’t like St. Louis, but then to Chicago.”
There it was a different world for Muddy Waters. He couldn’t be heard near as well in joints with huge crowds.
“It was really in the big urban centers of the north that blues found amplification. I joke sometimes that he discovered electricity. This idea that you didn’t have to shout over a crowd in a juke joint in the middle of the Mississippi Delta that does not have electricity.”
INTERVIEW WITH PROF. “CHIP” MITCHLL
Mitchell said that the shouting style still became one of the trademarks of the Chicago style of blues.
Once the blues went north, the style evolved.
“The biggest difference is that use of electric guitars, amps, recording technologies. When we talk about the original Delta blues, that was mostly acoustic and that’s something that people forget.”
Regardless of what was happening when blues was growing and developing. the sound that’s heard now in Delta joints is much different than the original country blues of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters before he went north.
“What we’re seeing now is blues that has gone off north, been shipped around the world and has come back amplified.”
Then came the 60s, 70s and 80s and companies like Malaco Records in Jackson, and the “down home blues”.
“The soul blues, as it’s sometimes referred to, is tipping its hat to the soul music of the 60s and early 70s. So you saw artists like Johnnie Taylor, who had hits on the Stax label out of Memphis. Stax was one of the chief soul music labels.”
Taylor, and other Stax artists, were able stay employed by signing with Malaco.
Mitchell said you can hear some of the advent of technologies in Malaco recordings, like the synthesizer, used liberally in 80s recordings.
“Malaco’s nickname, they definitely earned it, ‘The Last Soul Company’.”
Blues music, no matter the style, has seen several surges of popularity. With recordings by Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and almost every kid who wants to get into playing the guitar learning three chord blues, Mississippi has become a Mecca. People come from around the world to learn just what made people play and sing that way. Tomorrow you’ll read how Mississippi is raking in big bucks, thanks to the blues.