If someone who was new to the blues were to ask me what is the best way to get some background about the music, I would recommend the following steps:
First, to get the feel of where the blues came from, I would get a video of some of the true blues legends like Bukka White, Johnny Shines, Fred McDowell, Lightnin' Hopkins and Son House. These bluesmen were the links between such blues originators as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton and the later generation of musicians, including Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, who went north to the cities and amplified their country sound. When you hear and see Son House play "Death Letter Blues," "Levee Camp Moon" or "Preaching the Blues," it will give you cold chills. Son lashed the strings of his National Steel guitar while singing with the emotional intensity of a possessed soul. Many of the bluesmen who recorded in the Thirties and Forties were living in obscurity when they were rediscovered around 1960. They enjoyed several years of recognition, playing concerts and festivals during the folk blues revival at that time. Recommended videos include "Devil Got My Woman," (Blues at Newport 1966), Son House/Bukka White, "Legends of the Delta Blues" and "Legends of Bottleneck Blues Guitar" on Yazoo and Vestapol.
The next step would be to do some background reading on the blues. My first introduction was Samuel Charters' book, The Country Blues. So much new information has been found since this book was published in 1959 that it has become "an artifact of the 1950s." Charters later wrote The Blues Makers, which expanded on this early formative period of the blues.
The best concise overview of the music is in Deep Blues, published by Viking Press and written by Robert Palmer. He follows the blues from Stovall's Plantation in the Delta to Chicago's South Side with an easy-to-read text and basic discography. Another excellent resource, published by Abbeyville Press, is Nothing But the Blues, edited by Lawrence Cohn. the book includes eleven essays that describe the various styles and regional differences of the blues, plus it's loaded with illustrations and rare photos. If you want to get started in collecting blues recordings, the All Music Guide to the Blues has the best reviews, ratings and profiles of blues musicians and styles.
To get current blues information, check out the bookstores for several magazines on the blues. Living Blues is the best, having been around since 1970. This bi-monthly periodical maintains a high integrity of content, with interviews, record reviews and scholarly articles without getting too esoteric. Two other recent good magazines are Blues Review and Blues Access, which are published monthly and quarterly, respectively.
When you are saturated with information, it's time to get out and listen to the blues at the clubs, concerts and festivals. There are nearly forty groups in the Louisville area that currently perform regularly and they need your support. The summer and fall festivals, including Hot August Blues at Kenlake, Aug. 28-30; Blues to the Point in Carrollton Sept. 11 and 12 and the Garvin Gate Blues Festival on Oct. 9-11, have very strong line-ups of regionally and nationally known acts.
Finally, the last step is to join the Kyana Blues Society for just $15 per year if you are not already a member.
6th Annual KBS Amateur Blues Competition
This year's competition is shaping up to become of the best yet, with most of the nine bands coming from out of town. We have two repeats from last year, the Planet Blues Band (Louisville) and the Jimmy Robert Roberts Blues Band (Harrodsburg, KY). Indiana will be represented by St. John's Wort (Greenville), The Blues Devils (Madison) and the Frank Jordan Group (Taylorsville). Other Kentucky competitors will be One Shot Johnny (Greensburg), Jim Diamond and the Blues Syndicate (Franklin) and a brand new band called Cobalt Gypsies. Ted Tyson & the Serious Blues Band will be traveling the furthest, coming from Waynesville, Missouri.
To judge all this great talent will be Jeffrey Lee Puckett, music columnist with the Courier-Journal; Mark Stein, guitar slinger with the Rib Tip Kings and the Blueshounds; Ron Wallace, KBS director and nationally known DJ with the Bop Association and Paul Moffett, editor of Louisville Music News. The out-of-town VIP judge will be Chuck Bloomingburg from Nashville, who was past president of Music City Blues and was on the Board of the Blues Foundation. The winner will go to the International Blues Talent Competition in Memphis on October 23 and 24. Join us at 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 2 at Stevie Ray's to cheer for your favorite band and enjoy an evening of cutting edge blues.