History of Blues
Mar 13, 2019 at History Essays
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Everyone who likes blues knows the mysterious expression “Hoochie Coochie Man”: the song with this name became extremely popular in 1954 when Muddy Waters recorded it. The author of the song was Willie Dixon who not only produced this composition but also played the bass during the performance. The beginning of the song is characterized by separate voice and music parts. This effect intensifies the value and meaning of lyrics and also drives the listeners’ attention. Such style is used throughout the whole song; the chorus unites the music and voice while during the verse these elements come separately.
The meaning of the expression “Hoochie Coochie Man” is someone who can perform magic or predict future. The supportive elements to the mysterious symbolism of this expression are present in the lyrics of the song. For example, there is mentioned a bone of a black cat which was the amulet according to African American studies, and "Johnny Conckeroo", supposedly, has magical properties, this is why it was worn in a pouch around the neck.
The instrumentals that are used for this composition include voice, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, bass and drums. The drums determine rhythmicity of the song, and the bass emphasizes its tonality. Generally, the whole composition is very melodic, but to the end of the song it becomes more intense and stronger in volume. The piano part intensifies the final of the song, and the voice timbre of Muddy Waters with its characteristic sadness of African American soul adds the dramatic tone. The composition is very entertaining due to the style of its performance; besides, it makes an easy listening. No wonder that after the recording, it immediately became a hit and climbed to the eighth line chart of Billboard Black Singles.
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“Little Red Rooster” (1964) performed by The Rolling Stones is a single that introduced raw blues into neat British pop charts. Brian Jones gave the main motive of the song, performed on slide guitar, and Mick Jagger supplemented the gloomy picture by singing full of anguish and playing the harmonica. This song was played using electric guitar, drums and bass, acoustic guitar, voice and harmonica. The general style of the song is rather mild as the gentle sounds of harmonica add some country notes to the whole composition. The rhythm of the song is slower than it can be expected by the listeners, and the process of singing separates music and voice during the verse which makes an effect of extreme importance of the simple text of the song. The song intensifies the volume to the end where the final accent that was perfectly performed by harmonica.
Interestingly, in the United States this song was banned on radio because of the obscene associations: some critics considered the rooster to be a symbol of a sexual context in the song symbolizing a part of human body that escaped from the owner and did not give anyone the rest on the farmyard. In general, the song “Little Red Rooster” is a good example of real and good style blues.
The two compositions “Little Red Rooster” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” have many common elements, including instruments that were used for their performances, style and story behind each of them. The introductory parts of both songs are the same, giving the same rhythm and style to their performances. Both songs tell a story of the main protagonist whose actions make the world to be centered on him. Besides, both compositions have significant number of sexual theme elements, which make them both characteristic of the style of blues songs that were popular in the middle of the twentieth century.
The history of blues and its development will always make a sphere for discussion, arguing and comments. In his book Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, namely, in Chapter Thirteen, Elijah Wald suggests that the idea of blues was generally determined starting from the initial folk songs that were performed by plantation workers and was finally formed by 1970s. However, any alterations and interpretations of blues that came or are coming after this period will not be able to change the general image of blues.
The interesting fact is that, according to Wald, in 1940s and 1950s there was a wave of “Ethiopization” of blues when white performers had to use come charcoal for making their faces look black as if they were real Negroes from the south performing their traditional folk songs (Wald). However, this tendency changed when the real blacks came on stage. Wald mentions that there were groups of people who did not need to use a charcoal for their makeup, and their voices were enough to make everybody understand that the music they played and the songs they sang were filled with real soul of the South. This may be proved by the manner of performance of the song “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters as he has some specific sadness in his voice. However,, the similar style song with the similar story performed by Mick Jagger, a white singer, in the song “Little Red Rooster” had to be played with lower tempo and slow motion of performing in order to add the effect of sadness to the song. The listeners and people who studied blues also mentioned this feature as all of them commented that when real black singers came on the stage there was a specific note of sorrow that could be heard in their voices (Wald, 2004, p. 222).
The general impression of both songs is different although both of them are considered as blues songs. On the one hand, after listening to “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters, the aftertaste is clearly African American with all the obligatory elements of blues determined by specific manner and voice of the singer. On the other hand, “Little Red Rooster” produced an effect of a composition that only has some elements reminding blues composition. Besides, this song gave an image of the future rock style songs that would really be performed by “The Rolling Stones”.
The question of the authenticity of blues and its performers is vital due to a number of factors. Blues was initially introduced to public as a traditional folk song of black population of the South. The main characteristics of blues is sadness of the performance and the story of a hard life of plantation workers, which means that blues was not supposed to be used by white singers for commercial use. Moreover, the question and the problem of reality of blues also presents an important point in the history of blues. In fact, it initially was considered as a small part of African American folk music that was predominantly used as commercial segment. However, performers and the leading persons of blues history like Hammond and Lomax considered blues as the style of music that can be played by African American singers only (Wald, 2004, p. 232). The idea behind this was that only such performers could present and embody real history of fresh rural country that was intended as the leading idea of blues.
To conclude, the idea of Wald that the general image of blues was formed by the 1970s and nothing can change this image is clear in this chapter and can be easily supported by the examples of songs that were chosen for the analysis. Blues model was determined starting from the times when they people a guitar in their hands and decided to sing their story to the world. Chapter Thirteen makes one of the most important parts of the whole book written by Wald discussing the initials of blues image and its cult. This part of history determines all periods and characteristics of further development of this music direction and style.