A Short History of the Acoustic Blues: Blues Heroes and Their Guitars

short-history-of-the-acoustic-bluesFew things are as American as the Blues; the acoustic guitar that the European immigrants brought with them when they came to the United States became the tool that that would voice the tears and sorrows of the blues musicians. Today we bring you a short history of the acoustic blues as a way of honoring the past of this wonderful genre and all the incredibly talented men and women that contributed to its development.

The cotton fields of the Deep South are where the blues was born. The African slaves would use music to give vent to their problems, to express something that they couldn’t otherwise. That is why the blues can never be cheerful, but always sad.

Some of the first blues guitarists were Charley Patton and Willie Brown. Patton was born South of the Mississippi river in the late 1800’s and one of his most popular songs are the Pony Blues and Down the Dirt Road Blues. He loved to sing and play outside the box; he would slap the body of the guitar, play it behind his back and between his legs (Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the first to make love to his guitar, you see). In the 20’s Charley befriended Willie Brown and together met with Son House and made a formidable trio.

When young man Robert Johnson came into the picture (he was 20 years younger than Charley), the older men weren’t too fond of him. Johnson didn’t know how to play the guitar and would follow the trio around and try to learn, but they would often comment on how he didn’t possess any skill at all. Disillusioned, Robert Johnson went home to practice, hoping that one day he would make it. He did just that, practicing hard and learning various techniques and styles and thus created what would become the archetypal blues sound.

There is a legend that goes around about how Johnson managed to become such a skilled player in such a short time and our short history of the acoustic blues wouldn’t be complete without it. The legend says that he sold his soul to the devil and the devil gave him the gift of mastering the blues guitar. Later, when he met with Patton and Brown, they were astounded at how good he had become.

Don’t think that the early blues musicians were only men! Some of the biggest female names of the 20’s and 30’s were Ma Rainey, Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith. Muddy Waters was influenced by Memphis Minnie and he even did a cover of her classic Bumble Bee (he renamed it Honey Bee).

In 1943 Waters did something that many thought would lead to the death of the acoustic blues, he replaced his acoustic guitar with an electric one. Fortunately Leadbelly, Josh White and Blind Lemon Jefferson continued making acoustic blues and improved its overall style, expressivity and technique. Did you know that Leadbelly and Jefferson actually sparked the folk movement?

In the 60’s more and more blues musicians started using electric guitars and people almost forgot about it until Eric Clapton did his Unplugged album in 1992 which was a massive hit. We urge you to listen to it, if you haven’t already, because there is no way you can be passionate about acoustic blues without knowing Unplugged by heart.

A Short history of the acoustic blues: What is a person without their guitar?

Here are two famous acoustic blues guitars that have changed music forever:

1. BB King’s Lucille

BB King named each and every guitar he owned Lucille to force himself to remember a fire that started at one of his concerts that claimed the lives of two men who were fighting over a woman named Lucille. King had run into the burning building to retrieve his favorite guitar.

2. Eric Clapton’s Blackie

Blackie is a guitar that Eric Clapton made from pieces from different Stratocaster guitars. Having made it himself, he feels that a bit of his soul has rubbed off on it and although the neck of the guitar is worn out, he still loves it to bits.

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