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
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,
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 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.
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.
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!