Back in those days, talented but poor Memphis musicians could not buy musical instruments. That did nothing to dampen their spirits though, and instead they started using household items that no one knew could create such exotic sounds! So jugs, washboards and kazoos took the place of traditional musical instruments, and thus was born the unique Memphis blues sound. Who knew that blowing into jugs could produce sounds just like a bass guitar? This led to the forming of jug bands that belted out classic Memphis blues tunes, like the Memphis Jug Band and Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. These jug bands used simple instruments like banjos, violins, harmonicas, mandolins and guitars, perfectly complemented by sounds from the guimbarde, kazoo, washboards, and of course, jugs. Popular Memphis blues singers like Frank Stokes, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie and Robert Wilkins have either recorded or performed live with jug bands.
The sounds started changing after WW II, with the arrival of new musicians and their influences, like B.B. King, Willie Nix, Howlin Wolf and Ike Turner. The spread of the Memphis blues outside its hometown was thanks to Sun Records, the first recording company that signed blues artists from that area. Sun Records owner Sam Phillips recorded musicians like Howlin' Wolf (before he hit the Chicago blues scene), B.B.King, Ike Turner and Willie Nix, and all these legends had a prominent part to play in influencing future talents. And yes, there is no way one can talk about the Memphis blues and not mention ‘the King’! At the time when young White kids had no idea about the magic of “ghetto” or “gospel” music, it was Elvis who played a major role in putting Black music on the map. Blues legend Howlin’ Wolf mentioned in a 1966 interview that even though the world does not consider Elvis a blues singer, “"He started from the blues...He made his pull from the blues." Joe Cocker, one of the best white blues singers ever, was also of the same opinion, as he had mentioned that “Elvis was the greatest white blues singer in the world”.
It was W. C. Handy who made Beale Street the Mecca of the Memphis blues. Fondly called the “Father of the Memphis Blues”, Handy also wrote the very first Memphis blues song, titled “Memphis Blues”. There is always something or other happening in Memphis that has to do with the blues, and it seems like the entire city is celebrating one nonstop blues fest the whole year round. Blues Street or Beale Street in Memphis is the home of the blues and now a historical landmark. The Beale Street Music Festival that takes place in May every year is one of the biggest music parties held in the United States. The beautiful Tom Lee Park that overlooks the Mississippi is where artists gather for three whole days and celebrate the music of the city. Past performers at this festival include the likes of B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Iggy & The Stooges, Al Green, James Brown, Etta James, Bobby Blue Bland, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Lee Hooker, Blues Traveler, and many more music legends, both past and present. People come from all over the globe to celebrate the spirit of the blues, as well as explore the historical Beale Street and feast on amazing local specialties like Memphis BBQs and Dyer’s burgers. There is also the International Blues Challenge held in February every year, which includes the "Keeping the Blues Alive Awards".
So, on http://BluesBackingTracks.com you’ll find an increasing number of blues backing tracks in the Memphis Blues style, and also ‘Classic Blues Backing Tracks’ in the style of the noted artist of this fantastic sub-genre of the blues!
As always, if you’ve any tracks you’d like to see recorded into a 20 minute Blues Backing Track, then please drop me a line (HERE) and I’ll see what I can do!
Thanks in advance