What Is Blues?

by Edward Liu

Howdy all,

With tongue FIRMLY in cheek, lots of smilies, and LOTS of IMHO's, I've put together this handy-dandy definitive guide to "What Is Blues" for the newbies among us that don't know. You get what you pay for (unless you pay for your e-mail, in which case you get less), take with a grain of salt the size of an armadillo, IMHO, XYZPDQ, etc.

(For those with an inability to detect sarcasm without the word "not" at the end of a sentence, or for those with no sense of humor, THIS IS A JOKE!!! THIS IS A JOKE!!!!!! THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY!! Well, most of it is a joke...=8^)

(c) 1994, so don't even think about it, buddy

Three blues aint's:

Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf are blues. Big Bill Broonzy is blues. Robert Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, and probably any other guitar-playing "Johnson" is blues. The same statement can be made of any black man playing guitar named "King" -- B.B. King, Albert King, and Freddie King are all blues. Don King is not blues, but he doesn't play guitar, so the rule still holds.

Eric Clapton IS NOT blues. Dammit.

Buddy Guy is blues. Phil Guy is blues. Phil Collins is not blues. Albert Collins is blues. Fat Albert is not blues, but could be with a name like that. Big Mama Thornton is blues. Li'l Ed Williams is blues. Robin Williams is not blues. Deniece Williams is not blues. Denise LaSalle is blues. Charles Brown is blues, but Charlie Brown and James Brown are not blues, which is why there is not a "Brown" rule like the "Johnson" and "King" rules. Rufus Thomas is blues, but Dave Thomas is not blues. Anybody with an album on Arhoolie, Alligator, or Yazoo Records is blues. Some people with an album on Atlantic Records are blues but, up until recently, may not have been getting royalties for it.

Anybody using a stage name with any of the following keywords is blues: Blind, Magic, Guitar, Sonny, Junior, Little, Big, Screaming, Lightning, or the name of a city. This makes "Detroit Junior" doubly-blues and "Luther 'Guitar Jr.' Johnson" triply-blues. Having the word "Blue" in your name doesn't necessarily make you blues, although "Sugar Blue" and "Bobby 'Blue' Bland," are two notable exceptions. People with animal nicknames, like Hound Dog Taylor, are usually blues, but the Animals and Animal of the Muppets are not blues (though Animal did jam once with Koko Taylor's Blues Machine). Having "blue" in your album name or your song title does not make you blues, period. Being physically blue does not make you blues either -- the Smurfs and the genie from Aladdin are definitely not blues.

Eric Clapton is blues sometimes. Some say he's blues, but that he's not very good at it.

Stevie Ray Vaughan was blues. Sometimes he played rock and sometimes he played other stuff, but he was still blues. The same can be said of Duane Allman and Johnny Winter, except Johnny Winter isn't dead yet. Gary Moore is not blues -- he plays blues sometimes, he has played with two blues "King"s, and he has a song called "Still Got the Blues For You," but he is not fundamentally blues. The same statement applies to Jimi Hendrix, even if he does have an album called "Blues."

The following people are not blues: Green Day, Madonna, REM, Whitney Houston, David Lee Roth, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Garth Brooks, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Zubin Mehta, Julie Andrews, Michael Jordan, Vanilla Ice, Bill Clinton, Pat Boone, and Elvira. The last 5 are not even musicians, if you didn't know, although Bill Clinton will play the saxophone every now and then. From the previous 2 paragraphs, we see that being black does not make you blues, and being white does not make you not blues. Tim Kaihatsu is blues, proving that it's possible to be Asian and blues.

Eric Clapton IS blues. Dammit.

Any band marketed as "Alternative" is not blues. Any song that starts with the words, "Woke up this morning" is blues. Zydeco music isn't really "pure" blues, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. If you listen carefully enough, Ella Fitzgerald and Mozart can be blues -- just not the way you think. Country singers are not blues, no matter how they sing about how their baby left them and even if their songs begin with "Woke up this morning." Elevator music is not blues. (Picture, if you dare, "Boom Boom" with no vocals arranged for flute and assorted strings. If you were silly enough to do this, run right out and listen to some John Lee Hooker to negate the side-effects.)

A whole lot of blues songs are about the evils of women, but there are plenty of women who are blues. If you disagree, go take it up with Billie Holliday, Sue Foley, Debbie Davies, Saffire and the Uppity Blues Women, Bessie Smith, and Katie Webster (but be aware that Katie and all of the Uppity Blues Women will probably kick your ass for suggesting the're not blues). Memphis Minnie would be in this list, too, but she's covered by the "name of a city" keyword rule.

The Blues Brothers were not really blues, although one of them is promoting the blues very heavily these days. A harmonica player is generally a good sign of the blues, but that doesn't explain Huey Lewis. Elvis, the Beatles, and Buddy Holly were not blues, but they learned and evolved from the blues. This applies to the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and ZZ Top as well, but they're not in the past tense yet.

Eric Clapton is blues if you want him to be. This statement can apply to just about any artist, except for those listed in paragraph 8.

Finally, BLUES-L is blues. Most of the time.

Go To:

Robert Johnson / W.C. Handy / Willie Dixon

The Delta Map / The Essays / The Index

The Bluescasts To The Introduction The Blues Mall
The Blues News The Gutbucket The Blues Links

The Blue Highway
For the 'Buked and Scorned

Copyright © 1995-2004 by Edward Liu