Hey yall , here’s another article about something very relevant in not only my music but a lot of folks these days. Roots are important, especially when watered and cared for because they are strong and grip the foundation. But above the plane, the life expands into new twisting branches from the core. Hmmm what does all that mean. Music and trees? Thanks. JJ your articles are thought provoking.
JJ Rocks Article # 177: Blues: Tradition meets Innovation
In a way, Blues reminds me of Classical music because both genes despise change. When someone tries to be unique in either one of those styles of music, fans on both sides of the fence seem to shrug off any attempts at innovation by waving flags that say “Stick to Tradition”. This can put pressure on the shoulders of those who love their chosen direction of music, but still have the desire to break new ground. But thank god for the musically adventurous souls out there who dare to be different while staying within the boundaries of their public identity.
I can remember a time when I was jamming at a local Blues club in a town that I don’t care to mention. And as usual, all the players were ripping off blues licks that have been played before in every bar on the map. But I came prepared to not only lay down the usual foundation of blues licks 101, but I had a few ideas of my own. This met with mixed reviews, but I was still a happy guy by the time I left the joint. And here is the reason.
First of all, the old line “just remember the source” popped into my head as I was trying to hold this stupid smile on my face. It was my only expression while being in the line of fire of reviews that came from a listener that was totally drunk, or a musician that was working on being totally drunk. The irony of the whole thing is that the comments came as I was heading for the bar to find my rightful place in the overall mood of the night. So basically, it wasn’t that someone said “You suck” or “You were great”, it’s was the comment “You were really good, but it wasn’t all blues”.
Well, now you see the problem. I went there that night with an experiment in mind. I was just going to take the normal blues licks and embellish them with a few chromatic runs and wider intervals like you might find in Country or Jazz. And to some people it was magical. Others felt that the solos had broken the chains of this great American genre that has been bound by the lack of innovation. And they started to talk like preachers reciting verses from the Blues bible. Most of these people couldn’t play their way out of a wet paper wine bag! I guess that’s just another example of the emptiest containers making the most noise. But that didn’t bother me. After all, it was a bar.
What does really get under my chops is the fact that some people seem to start and stop the Blues tradition where ever they damn well please. At one time the whole Blues/ guitarist thing revolved around the Robert Johnson style of acoustic slide with open tuning and uncountable measures. And many imitators followed in those footprints which seemed to go on for years. Then more electric vibes started to come across the airwaves like Muddy Waters, Albert King, and BB King. Do you think that the original Blues lovers flipped out and started to bitch about tradition?
I wasn’t around at that time, but I was playing on the scene when electric blues started to really rock. And I remember hearing that same “traditional” speech from the older Blues guys. But the weird thing was that those same people were playing electric versions of Robert Johnson tunes and not blinking an eye. So I didn’t want to hear their same old “traditional” song and dance when players like Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck started to crank their amps on 11 and took blues to a new level. It was obvious that innovation was taking its rightful place along side of tradition.
So I’m happy to say that in these times some Blues players are actually starting to become adventurous while still holding on to its ancestry. Sound familiar? Robin Ford has been a shining example of musical experimentation within the walls a one of America’s true home grown styles of music. And there are others following in his footsteps. So when Dorothy and I are searching for unique sounds coming across the web, it’s always a pleasure to discover a new approach to playing the Blues.
Oh yeah, before I forget. As far as my approach to the Blues, I’ll be sticking to my guns and keep trying to blend in new ideas with this very much loved and traditional genre. I’d be an idiot if I actually listened to people who live in the past and refuse to recognize the future. Yes, there is something to be said about tradition. It’s called innovation. And the marriage of these two musical trains of thought should be embraced by the ambitious, not feared by the ignorant.
– JJ Rocks, St. Croix, Virgin Islands