Blues Rock - History

History

While rock and blues have historically always been closely linked, and electric guitar techniques such as distortion and power chords were already used by 1950s blues guitarists (particularly Memphis bluesmen such as Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson, and Pat Hare), blues rock as a distinctly recognizable genre did not arise until the late 1960s. In 1963, American Lonnie Mack debuted an idiosyncratic, fast-paced electric blues guitar style which confounded his contemporaries, but which later came to be identified with blues rock. His instrumentals from that period were recognizable as blues or R&B tunes, but he relied heavily upon fast-picking techniques derived from traditional American country and bluegrass genres. The best-known of these are the hit singles "Memphis" (Billboard #5) and "Wham!" (Billboard #24). However, blues rock was not named as such, or widely recognized as a distinct movement within rock, until several years later, with the advent of such British bands as Free, Savoy Brown and the earliest incarnations of Fleetwood Mac. The musicians in those bands had honed their skills in a handful of British blues bands, primarily those of John Mayall and Alexis Korner. At that point, Mack's earlier recordings were rediscovered and he soon came to be regarded as a blues rock pioneer. Other American performers, such as Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield and the group Canned Heat are now also considered blues rock pioneers.

Music critic Piero Scaruffi argues that the blues rock genre was defined when John Mayall released the album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton in 1966, which included guitarist Eric Clapton. Scaruffi defines "blues rock" as a "genre of rhythm'n'blues played by white European musicians." Scaruffi claims that the US "equivalent of John Mayall was Al Kooper." Cream "took the fusion of blues and rock to places where it had never been before" by engaging in a "level of group improvisation that was worthy of jazz." He calls Fleetwood Mac (during the Peter Green period in the late 1960s) "one of the most creative and competent British bands of the blues revival". Scaruffi argues that the "British blues musicians were true innovators", in that they did a "metamorphosis" on US blues and "turned it into a "white" music" by emphasizing "the epic refrains of the call and response", speeding up the "Chicago's rhythm guitars," smoothing "the vocal delivery to make it sound more operatic" and adding vocal harmony.

The electric guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix (a veteran of many American rhythm & blues and soul groups from the early-mid 1960s) and his power trios, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys, has had broad and lasting influence on the development of blues rock, especially for guitarists. Eric Clapton was another guitarist with a lasting influence on the genre; his work in the 1960s and 1970s with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, supergroups Blind Faith, Cream and Derek and the Dominos, and an extensive solo career has been seminal in bringing blues rock into the mainstream. By this time, American acts such as The Doors and Janis Joplin further introduced mainstream audiences to the genre.

In the late '60s Jeff Beck a former member of The Yardbirds, revolutionized blues rock into a form of heavy rock, taking the UK and the US by storm with his band, The Jeff Beck Group. Jimmy Page, a third alumnus of The Yardbirds, went out to form The New Yardbirds which would soon become known as Led Zeppelin and would become a major force in the 1970s heavy metal scene. The Who during their early run was a blues rock standard group, with their posters for their performances including their catch phrase "Maximum R&B". During this period the band covered songs from Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Mose Allison. The Australian band AC/DC were also influenced by blues rock. Other blues rock musicians influential on the scene in the 1970s included Dr. Feelgood, Rory Gallagher and Robin Trower.

Beginning in the early 1970s, American bands such as Aerosmith fused blues with a hard rock edge. Blues rock grew to include Southern rock bands, like the Allman Brothers Band, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd, while the British scene, except for the advent of groups such as Status Quo and Foghat, became focused on heavy metal innovation. Blues rock had a rebirth in the early 1990s - 2000s, with many artists such as Gary Moore, Mad Season, The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, Them Crooked Vultures, John Mayer, Blues Traveler, The Black Crowes, The Black Keys, Jeff Healey, Clutch, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Joe Bonamassa.

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