I was reading the Why Won’t The Blues Evolve? article written by Chaz on Gear-Vault.com, and I wanted to post this response and kind of engage an interblog debate. This article could have been named The Reason Why The Blues Won’t Evolve… My Two Cents!
I guess I could say that I’m a blues lover. I became a fan when I was just about to become a teenager, or maybe I already was… Never mind. Blues music introduced me to music. It was the entry point of my musical journey, and it remained an obsession for 15 years. It induced an archivist type of behavior exploring the paths and nodes in the gigantic tree of music. It fed my need for music: blues music obviously, but also related music, derivative music. And yet, I got bored with blues music for the exact same reason that Chaz is describing in his article. I think he got it right… This is pointless to re-create the old fashioned blues because it means missing the whole point of blues music.
Even worst, not only it is missing the whole point, but this trend among blues players tends to homogenize the genre. Preserving the ”old ways of blues” only keeps clichés alive: 12 bars, 3 chords and a suitcase. Those guys that Chaz is referring to (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Buddy Guy…) did use those clichés either most of the time, or from time to time, but they have also brought something new, something unheard in their time. Unluckily, this is not the case of the vast majority of the modern blues music production.
However, I think Chaz missed a point in his article (but I’m pretty sure he had it in mind). Who’s to blame for that matter? Obviously, musicians have their responsibility as they are the producers of this backward-looking music. But I think that the fans are the main reason why a lot of blues musicians stick with the old ways. It is a matter of survival (commercial survival) for musicians to stick with the audience tastes and demands. And as a matter of fact, blues music audience is mainly traditionalist.
Does this mean that blues music hasn’t evolved since its golden age? I don’t think so, au contraire… Blues music is a continuum, and just like any continuum, you can see the differences only if you look at the ultimate points of the spectrum. To see an evolution, you have to look at the minorities, not the arithmetic mean. This mean is designed by the large audience tastes. The minorities are those weirdos who will try something new, something tricky, something that might rule them out or make them successful and become a reference for decades. There are a lot of examples, from the early 1920s Delta blues artists until nowadays.
So, what changed since the golden age of blues? What does explain the lack of support for adventurous blues musicians? We are not in the golden age of blues anymore. Music industry supports what (is supposed to) deserve supporting i.e. music for broad audience, music that makes “easy” cash. It doesn’t stand tricky investments. It fits the standards asked by the broad traditionalist audience for blues musicians.
This audience didn’t want to hear about G. Love & Special Sauce, Chris Thomas King (21st Century Blues… From Da Hood), or Nublues as a new wave, a new generation of blues musicians. The traditionalists thought that it was not blues ’cause it was blended with hip-hop beats and flows. Once, at a Popa Chubby gig, I even heard some dudes yelling at the man: ”enough with the rapping shit, bring the blues!”… True story!! This audience still pictures James Blood Ulmer as a jazzman who knows about blues, while I think he is nothing but a bluesman who can play free jazz. Fat Possum Records, maybe one the best things that happened in blues for a while, released at least one remix of Rollin’ & Tumblin’ by RL Burnside (Come On In album)… I’d love to see them stuff a full album with such remixes. But I’m not sure this would be a best-seller… Or maybe not!! When they’ve promoted the RL Burnside/Jon Spencer association, and gave RL a second chance to have a career, it was a hell of a bet. It was almost a leap of faith.
I’ve been discursive again. To sum up my thoughts on this question, I do think that the blues has evolved ’cause there will always be weirdos to attempt and achieve new forms of expression, far from the blues clichés and standards. And I think that the years to come might be very interesting as the music industry (I just feel like I’m talking about the enemy here) is not the only music provider anymore. The game is slightly changing because niche audiences will have more and more material available, provided straight from the artist to the audience. This won’t change the face of ”mainstream” blues music, but this will allow some diversity.
So, what do you think about that question?