Arlen Roth on why Blues is So Important
I know I’ve written blogs in the past about having “roots” to your playing, and what it means to many players and their histories, but it’s the blues roots that to me, really have the most meaning. This is especially true for those of us who enjoy playing American “roots”-based music, and that of course, stretches around the world, especially when it comes to the guitar!
The first thing to realize is that the blues is basically at the “root” of almost all American and Western music. The aspects of the I-IV-V changes, the 12-bar blues and the “call and response” way of phrasing both vocally as well as instrumentally is what instantly sets it apart from many other culture’s musical languages. I have found that since I grew up loving both blues as well as country music simultaneously, I really didn’t see nor hear any great divide between the two. In many respects old country was really “white blues” and the influence of black blues musicians was so easily absorbed by the whites who may’ve been physically segregated from the blacks, but who still picked up on what they created with their musical language.
If you listen to the great Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff or any of the other early, early country stars it’s easy to see the blend of blues and country that made this sound so universal. The I-IV-V was still the preferred chord progression, but also the “ragtime” progressions started to take hold as well. This was equally prevalent in black as well as white music, and took hold in the “Roaring ‘20s” when Jazz also started to become a true American phenomenon. If you look at it, Jazz is really the ultimate hybrid of all these styles, and the earliest forms were structured so much like blues as well as country, and seem to just “take it all in” in a musical, as well as cultural sense!
As guitarists, the blues is really the perfect root to have. After all, everything else grew from it, and whenever I see a student who has been wrapped up in “shredding” heavy metal from day one, or who jumps right to jazz, they always feel that they need to “get back” to what really matters as a foundation, and that is definitely blues! Have the blues roots, and everything else will fall into proper place for you, regardless of what you “end up” calling yourself as a player!