According to Etta James in an interview with American Chronicle: "The Blues and country are first cousins ... What I look for in a song is for the story to be for real. I like a blood and guts kind of thing. That's what you find in the lyrics of country music." Blues and country music both developed in the 19th century in the Southern United States. They share a similar history. For this reason, they share many of the same musical and lyrical characteristics.
Learn the history behind blues and country music. They are both forms of American folk music influenced by earlier styles brought overseas. Blues music grew out of field hollers and chants sung by African slaves. Irish and Scottish balladeers borrowed the guitar and banjo of blues and thus created "country". According to Reebee Garofalo in "Rockin' Out: Popular Music in the USA", "Terms like country and blues are only used to separate the same kind of music made by blacks and whites ... designations like race and hillbilly intentionally separated artists along racial lines and conveyed the impression that their music came from mutually exclusive sources." Country is an offshoot of blues. They are essentially the same thing. In the PBS special, "Rhythm, Country and Blues," country is referred to as "white man's blues."
Listen to the instrumentation in country and blues songs. They share many of the same instruments. These include guitar, bass, piano and drums, among others. Traditional country music differed from blues in that it utilized instruments such as the pedal steel guitar and fiddle. Modern country doesn't necessarily include these instruments, sounding closer to rock music, an offshoot of blues.
Listen to the similarities in lyrical content in blues and country music. Both genres tend to express raw emotion like heartache and frustration. Freed slaves and immigrants both had to deal with economic and civil hardship, and channeled their strife into song for solace. Listen to Muddy Waters' "Trouble in Mind" and Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart." Both songs express pain over a lover. Waters sings "I'm going down to the river/Oh you know I'm gonna sit right down right down there, on the ground/ You know if I get to thinkin' about my baby, I wanna jump overboard and drown." Williams expresses similar heartache and frustration over his object of affection, singing "The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart/Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart." Listen to current blues and country music. They continue to express the emotions felt by real people.
- "Rockin' Out: Popular Music in the USA"; Reebee Garofalo; 1997
- "Rhythm, Country and Blues"; PBS; 1994
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