History and Highlights
With the diverse collision of cultures in Louisiana and the many musical influences in Texas, the blues in each area featured unique depth, rhythms, and emotion, resulting in significant and unique contributions to the genre.
One of the musical treasures to come out of Louisiana was the songster Lead Belly, a singer/performer/songwriter with an amazingly varied repertoire that included spirituals, prison songs, ballads, folk songs, and pop in addition to blues. Folklorist John Lomax "discovered" Lead Belly as he traveled making field recordings in Louisiana in 1933, recorded much of his repertoire and helped him secure performance dates. Lead Belly was a captivating performer whose music embodied black history.
Louisiana gave rise to multiple styles of the blues, strongly influenced by the mix of French, Spanish, African American, Creole and Cajun inhabitants that gave the region, particularly New Orleans, its distinctive culture and musical traditions. Black musicians played at high society functions as well as the honkytonks, bordellos, and bars of the city. West African rhythms, work songs, and field hollers from the plantations, military marches, British-American hymns, jazz, and zydeco all blended to create a veritable gumbo of sounds and an entirely unique take on the blues.
The bars and nightclubs outside the French Quarter of New Orleans have long been important training grounds for early blues and R&B musicians. In the early 1900s, groups of musicians began to play together in what would be the first blues and later jazz, bands. While jazz dominated the city and is its musical trademark to this day, many early jazz compositions were based on blues principles.
In the 1940s and '50s, New Orleans-raised Professor Longhair incorporated the intricate rhythms of the Caribbean into his blues piano playing to create and record a unique style of the blues that has since been dubbed "rumba boogie." By the 1950s and '60s, Fats Domino began combining classic "boogie woogie" piano, a New Orleans beat, and R&B and jazz roots on hits like "Walkin' to New Orleans" and "Blueberry Hill."
During the 1950s, New Orleans was an important center of R&B recording in the South and successful musicians like Professor Longhair helped pave the way for upcoming artists such as Malcolm John Rebennack, Jr., aka "Dr John." Combining the roots of New Orleans blues with jazz, funk, rhythm and blues, pop and rock, Dr. John helped bring New Orleans style blues to the pop charts with his 1973 hit "Right Place, Wrong Time."
To this day, New Orleans is a city known for its music and Louisiana's contribution to the blues, R&B, and rock and roll, is legendary.
The blues began to emerge in Texas in the early 1900s and could be found anywhere black workers gathered. Many bluesmen made a living playing in barrel houses near the state's ranches, oilfields and lumber camps. When the Great Depression forced many of the rural workers into the big cities, the musicians moved with them to the honkytonks of Dallas, Houston and Galveston.
Blind Lemon Jefferson, the most influential of the early Texas bluesmen who is considered the "Father of Texas Blues," created a distinctive style in the early 1920s with innovative single string guitar accompaniment and jazzlike improvisation. He was an extraordinary guitarist, and paved the way for a remarkable line of musical Texans that includes the legendary T-Bone Walker whose pioneering mastery of electric blues guitar, some believe, has never been topped Lightnin' Hopkins, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Blind Willie Johnson was another highly influential Texas performer a gospel singer and superb slide guitarist who used his music as a way of preaching, and earned his living playing on porches and street corners of Texas, a scene re-created in The Soul of a Man:
WATCH VIDEO CLIP - (Blind Willie Johnson from The Soul of a Man)
During the 1940s, Texas native Big Mama Thornton in the tradition of classic blues vocalists Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and especially Memphis Minnie began belting out the blues as she toured throughout the South. She settled in Texas in 1948 and by 1951 had signed a recording contract with Houston's Peacock label, which, together with sister label Duke, was the most prolific in the state's burgeoning R&B recording industry. By 1953, Thornton's release of "Hound Dog" soared to number one on the R&B charts, pre-dating Elvis Presley's smash hit three years later.
As the recording industry began to consolidate further north and on the coasts in the 1960s, the musicians followed, reducing Texas from a major blues center to a stop on the R&B road. In the late 1970s, however, the Fabulous Thunderbirds put Austin, Texas back on the map as a blues center, mixing Texas blues with rock and roll, R&B, and soul, and paving the way for the blues revival of the 1980s. Another Texas native, Stevie Ray Vaughan, helped launch that revival, along with fellow Texan Albert Collins, securing Texas's spot on the map as a hotbed of the blues past and present. To this day Texas, and particularly Austin, is home to a thriving blues scene that continues to exert its influence nationwide.