Beginning this September, Public Radio International stations nationwide will begin broadcasting "The Blues," thirteen hour-long programs hosted
by Grammy Award-winning bluesman Keb' Mo'. Listen online to the series, or find your local radio station broadcast at
1. "The Origins of the Blues"
The series opens with a celebration and definition of blues music. Interviewees include Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Chuck D, John Popper,
B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and many more.
Though the blues is an American music form, its origins are undoubtedly African. The Blues begins with a journey through the music's roots
in West Africa, where slaves were loaded onto ships bound for America.
Modern master Taj Mahal traces the sounds of different regions in Africa to the styles of contemporary music.
2. "Country Blues"
Locale: Mississippi Delta
No one knows for sure when the blues became a music form of its own, but most authorities agree it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In addition to taking listeners to the same Tutwiler, MS, railroad platform where W.C. Handy first heard the blues in 1903, "Country Blues" documents the
birth of recorded blues with the music of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Charley Patton, Son House, Blind Willie McTell, and Skip James.
This episode's concluding performance is from contemporary blueswoman Rory Block.
3. "Classic Blues"
Locale: Harlem, NY
The blues begins its integration into the American pop music canon when Mamie Smith records "Crazy Blues," launching the "race" records boom of the 1920s.
"Classic Blues" features first generation blues divas Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Victoria Spivey, and others backed by jazz bands led by
the likes of Louis Armstrong and Lonnie Johnson.
The program concludes with an interpretation of Bessie Smith by 23-year-old Shemekia Copeland.
4. "Standin' at the Crossroads: Robert Johnson and Depression-era Blues"
Locale: Mississippi Delta
This episode explores Depression-era styles, including the revolutionary music of Robert Johnson the single most important country blues
artist of the pre-War era. It examines Johnson's legacy and investigates the "mythology" of the blues, including the battle between the sacred
and the secular.
Listeners visit the legendary crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 at midnight on a Saturday night. Interviewees include Eric Clapton, Chris Thomas
King, R.L. Burnside, and Bonnie Raitt.
The program ends with a performance by two modern exponents of the Piedmont blues style, Cephas and Wiggins.
5. "From Country to City: Memphis and the Making of Modern Blues"
Beale Street in Memphis was to blues what 52nd Street in New York was to jazz: Packed clubs, street musicians, all-night card games, ladies
of the night, fights, and some of the best music heard anywhere.
Artists who launched careers in Memphis include B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Sonny Boy Williamson, Ike Turner, Memphis Minnie, and Little Milton.
The program concludes with a live recording from the 2003 W.C. Handy Awards, held every year in Memphis to honor the best in blues music.
6. "Sweet Home Chicago: The Blues Goes Electric: 1950s Chicago"
The 1950s was the blues' golden era. With the advent of the electric guitar and amplification, the music grew louder, bolder, and hotter.
Featured artists in this show include Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Little Walter. Listeners get a guided tour of
Chess Records from Willie Dixon's daughter, Shirli.
The program is capped by a performance from electric blues pioneers Billy Boy Arnold and Hubert Sumlin.
7. "The Folk Revival: Re-discovering Country Blues"
Locale: Newport, RI
By the 1960s, Chicago blues had peaked and a resurgence of electrified roots music was in full swing throughout America's college campuses
and coffeehouses. At the Newport Folk Festival, older blues artists returned to the stage after being re-discovered by amateur musicologists
who had scoured the South in search of their heroes.
Program interviewees include Jorma Kaukonen, Peter Wolf, Maria Muldaur, and many others who experienced the folk-blues boom first hand.
The legendary John Hammond performs.
8. "Union Jack Blues"
Locale: London, England
In the 1950s, Big Bill Broonzy and then Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters performed in England, setting off a prolonged period of blues
obsession by young British musicians.
Listeners hear about the experience from Robert Plant, Bill Wyman, Mick Fleetwood, Eric Burdon, and many more.
The father of British Blues, John Mayall, provides the in-studio musical conclusion.
9. "Blues Rock"
Locale: San Francisco
In the early '60s, America was listening to re-constituted country blues, while England was experimenting with its own version of electric
blues. It wasn't long before both camps came together and colored the sound of rock in the late '60s and early '70s, capping off a decade of
unprecedented blues popularity among whites.
Musical highlights include recordings by Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Rolling Stones, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band,
the Allman Brothers Band, Janis Joplin, and Johnny Winter.
A surprise artist demonstrates how the blues permeated all of rock music at the time.
10. "The '70s: The Hard Years"
With the rise of glam rock, country rock, and progressive rock on the white side, and funk and disco on the black side, the blues suddenly
sounded irrelevant to pop music fans in the 1970s.
Still, the blues survived. A young fan, Bruce Iglauer, started Alligator Records in Chicago, making records and selling them out of the trunk
of his car. Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters created the best records of Waters' post-Chess period. Down South on the Chitlin' Circuit, blues
artists went back to entertaining black audiences, avoiding blues-rock and focusing on Southern fried blues that was greasy and steamy.
The concluding performance comes from the inimitable Bobby Rush.
11. "The Blues Revival"
Locale: Austin, Texas
At the start of the 1980s, the future of the blues seemed as bleak as the decade just passed. But the emergence of a pair of young bluesmen,
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray, the re-birth of an old one, Albert Collins, and the introduction of the compact disc fueled a blues
revival that carried the genre through the '80s and beyond.
Vaughan and other white blues acts made Texas the state where blues thrived, nurturing artists like Vaughan's brother Jimmie and his band
The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Lou Ann Barton, Sue Foley, Marcia Ball, and Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers.
Harmonica player Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds provides the musical close.
12. "Celebrating the Blues Today"
Locale: New Orleans
Late in the 20th century, a plethora of young blues artists led by Jonny Lang, Corey Harris, Keb' Mo', The North Mississippi Allstars, and
Susan Tedeschi, brought fresh sounds and stylings to the music. At the same time, stalwarts like Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, R.L. Burnside,
and B.B. King only heightened their acclaim.
This program celebrates the long-standing relationship the blues has had with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Muddy Waters' son, Big Bill Morganfield, demonstrates how modern blues builds on what came before.
13. "Future Blues: The 21st Century and Beyond"
Locale: Seattle, Washington
The Blues concludes with a look into the future of the blues. Reporting from Experience Music Project in Seattle, where a major
retrospective on the blues is underway, this episode includes an interview with Martin Scorsese, executive producer of the PBS series
The program looks at the emergence of Acid Blues and performers such as Moby, Rick Holmstrom, and the Fat Possum line-up. Authors and
experts offer predictions for what path the blues will follow in the 21st century.
A wrap-up of The Year of the Blues and some new blues from the North Mississippi Allstars end the series.