I Want To Listen To The Delta Blues

The Delta blues was a form of the genre that originated in the Mississippi Delta area, which is farther north than the Mississippi River Delta around New Orleans. The boundaries that separate it from other forms of the blues are not well- defined, as there was a great deal of movement between places; but in general, one can say that Delta bluesmen used the homemade “cigar box guitar”” later common among revivalists and members of the “DIY” culture” as well as the guitar, harmonica, and most notably the slide guitar. They typically sang about the hardships of travelling, poverty, and prison life (several Delta blues musicians did time in the Mississippi State Penitentiary), as well as sexuality.

Like other blues musicians, Delta performers began recording in the 1920s and 1930s. Their recordings are still available on the collections of labels like Document Records, a British- based company that specializes in American “roots” music of that era. (I have several CDs from their collection myself.) Charlie Patton (1887? – 1934) known to history the “Father of the Delta Blues,” was noted for playing his guitar in all sorts of unusual positions, foreshadowing Jimi Hendrix. His “Spoonful Blues” (1929) deals with cocaine, and he also recorded “Rattlesnake Blues” the same year. Other early pioneers in the genre include Son House (1902? – 1988), who recorded his two- part “Dry Spell Blues” in 1930 (note the dancing slide guitar effect on these); Skip James; Bessie Smith; and Ma Rainey.

Also during this period, the Mississippi- born brakeman Jimmie Rodgers” known as the “Father of Country Music”” introduced a style known as the “blue yodel,” which has since been emulated by countless other singers. And in later years, the singing of many Delta blues singers was to influence Bob Dylan on his early albums.