Chicago Blues Orgy

Since I seem to be contemplating a reuptake of my harmonica career, I have been listening to buttloads of Chicago Blues music lately. I spent most of my early high school years fairly obsessed with playing harmonica and with the blues, but I haven’t listened to it much recently, and it is nice to go back to it. I’ve discovered some kickass albums and am going to post some thoughts on them. If you are not that interested in blues music or music in general, you may want to skip the next few posts, square.

howlinwolf1.jpgWhen I say “Chicago Blues” I do not mean “blues from Chicago,” which would be sort of a gimme, wouldn’t it? No, no, in fact a lot of what I’ll be talking about doesn’t come from Chicago or anywhere near it. Chicago Blues is, to grossly oversimplify, a style of blues that occurred following the migration of African-Americans from the South (where the “Delta Blues” was played) to the industrial cities of the Midwest and elsewhere. Moved from front porches to nightclubs, this blues ceased to be predominantly acoustic music. It became vastly more aggressive, more complex, less inhibited, more transgressive, and (most importantly for my purposes) was amplified into ear-bleeding overdrive. The limitations of both the instruments and the equipment become painfully and gleefully evident in some of these old recordings: These harp guys play so loud you can hear their reeds bending out of shape halfway through a solo. No shit; it’s bad-ass. The correct way to listen to Chicago Blues is while nodding with terrifying violence and hitting things rhythmically, preferably parts of yourself; stay away from windows and only sip your drink between verses.

The argument might be made (in fact, often is) that Chicago Blues is the Bad Daddy of rock ‘n’ roll. I am grudgingly receptive to that somewhat boneheaded observation, except that every rock guitarist out there is a pansyass milktoast pantywaist compared with John Lee Hooker. For my money, saying the Blues gave birth to rock is reductio ad absurdum, ad absurdum. Why I oughta….

Another important point to make is that if you have been reading this thinking “Oh yeah, like Stevie Ray Vaughan,” or even for that matter (forgive me, BB) “oh yeah, like BB King,” then… no. Just no. Read on.

Lead image: Howlin’ Wolf: The Real Folk Blues. Has been known to eat his harmonica.

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