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History of the Blues, Part 2

In the second and final part of the series, we look at American blues as it fanned out into several sub-genres and had notable influence on rock n roll in the second half of the 20th century. This is done in conjunction with the below video, which is part 2 of a 2-part 2013 BBC Documentary called Blues America: Woke Up This Morning, with commentary by Keith Richards, Taj Mahal, Blind Boy Paxton, Buddy Guy and Billy Boy Arnold among others.

With the industrialization of cotton picking and the post-war boom of northern American cities, there was a mass migration from rural to urban areas, especially among the African American population. With this, the style and meaning of blues music continued to change as attitudes about the music evolved within the younger members of the African American community.

In 1950, the new electric blues was “every black person’s party music” as the acoustic, agrawal sound of the recent past was quickly left behind. Founded and run by Polish immigrant brothers Leonard and Phil Chess who also handled most of the music production, Chicago’s Chess Records became the epicenter of this new sound. Mississippi migrant Muddy Waters was the first real “star” of Chess, with a perfectly framed voice and harmonica played above sparse but potent musical arrangements. Waters’ first hit, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in 1948, was the perfect bridge between the country and city sound as one of the earliest examples of an electrified take on down-home blues.

The Chess brothers began an association with Sam Phillips and his Memphis-based Sun Records in 1951, closing the talent circuit between the Delta and Chicago blues talent pools. Phillips discovered Howlin Wolf (born Chester Aurthur) and referred to Chess, resulting in the 1951 hit “How Many More Years”, an original song delivered with a powerful voice and strong commercial sensibility. Phillips also released early music by the legendary B.B. King, launching an incredibly long and fruitful career.

Of course, it was Phillips’ discovery of Elvis Presley, starting with a cover of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama” where the young white performer “sounded black”. From here, rock n’ roll became the great melting pot of musical genres, sneaking across an invisible racial barrier and acting as a tectonic shift in American culture. In a reversal of the Elvis model, guitarist Chuck Berry went to Chess Records and converted a country/hillbilly song into the hit “Maybelline”, where the young black performer “sounded white”.

By the end of the 1950s, young black Americans had begun to move towards the sound of Motown/soul and away from the blues that they deemed  “slave music”, “plantation music” and/or “old folks music”. But just as the hits dried up for even the most famous blues artists, a new white audience began to celebrate the traditional blues and re-frame this music as an art of “struggle and strife”. With this, the careers of older artists such as John Estes, Son House and Skip James found new life up north as these old masters performed to new white audiences. Adding to the appeal and curiosity, the “crossroads legend” combined with the 1961 compilation album, King of the Delta Blues Artists added to the legend and mystery of Robert Johnson and increased his influenced on the coming wave of (mostly) British classic rock bands such as the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zeppelin.

In the coming decades, artists like BB King, who played uptown, electric blues with class and dignity, kept the blues tradition alive in mainstream music with a fresh wave of blues-based rock artists, such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, George Thorogood and Robert Cray coming in the 1980s. In 1990, a 72-year-old John Lee Hooker, who had migrated to Detroit from Mississippi, to perform his famed boogie chillin’ style, had an incredible career revival with the album The Healer, proving that the blues style would live on into the future.

History of the Blues, Part 1





Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize

Bob DylanIn an unprecedented move, Bob Dylan has become the first musical composer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, October 13th. Although Dylan had been speculated as a possible Nobel winner throughout the years, today’s selection was a huge surprise for those attending the prize announcement in Stockholm.

Born Robert Zimmerman, he adopted his stage name from poet Dylan Thomas. The 75-year-old, self-taught musician, has been performing, recording and composing for well over a half century and over that span has released 37 studio albums, 11 live albums, and a dozen editions of “bootleg” collections. Dylan has also been the subject of and starred in several films and published several books. His most potent work in recorded music came in the mid 1960s with classic albums such as The Times They Are a’ Changin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. This latter album was cited by the Nobel Academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius, who also said that Dylan’s songs were “poetry for the ears”.

Dylan forged his sound with influence from Delta blues and folk music, most pointedly Woody Guthrie, as well as rock icons like Elvis Presley. He adopted his surrealistic lyrical style from many poets and authors such as Arthur Rimbaud and Anton Chekhov. Dylan will receive this unexpected Nobel prize on December 10th and it will sit on his trophy case along with his 11 Grammy awards, Golden Globe award and 2001 Oscar for best original song.


Bob Dylan Online

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Chris Murphy, Musical Zen

Chris Murphy silhoutte

Combining an ecosystem of rich musical influences with a passion to create and perform, Chris Murphy is in the process of unleashing a tidal force of original, organic and entertaining music through his new label Teahouse Records. Starting early in 2016 with the accessible pop/rock album Surface to Air and continuing with the late summer release of the down-home flavored Red Mountain Blues, Murphy and company are currently a third of the way through their planned six album musical campaign. Each of these albums were were written and recorded by Murphy in the recent years and each has its own niche in a vast array of styles and all are centered around Murphy’s virtuoso violin fiddling.

This artist has been at it for about a quarter century as a performer, recording artist and musical instructor. Throughout this time span, Murphy has built an impressive portfolio of solo and collaborative works along with cameo appearances on records by established artists. Originally from New York City, he drew upon the disparate and eclectic sounds of his Irish/Italian neighborhood, from Italian-mandolin music to bluegrass and folk to Latin music to rock and roll. Later he learned Eastern and other influences as well as composition at Simon’s Rock of Bard College and the New England Conservatory of Music. Along the way, Murphy learned to play guitar, mandolin, percussion and some Eastern instruments before focusing his mastery on the violin.

Now based in Los Angeles, Murphy earns his living by performing, working on music for film, and as the “Dean of Musical Zen” at The Black Tree School, where he teaches guitar, mandolin and violin.

Roots Rock Review logoSurface to Air by Chris Murphy
Released: February 1, 2016
Produced by: Chris Murphy and Joshua Cutsinger
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sailing the World Alone
That Just Might Do the Trick
Surface to Air
The Blacksmith’s Fancy
Dead Weight
Vernon Tool & Die
Last of the Twickhbam Blackbirds
The Oscar Wilde Waltz
Elmira Prison Camp
Wish You Well
Bugulusa Blues
Nothing Good Happens
Music for a Feast
The Hunter & the Fox
Chris Murphy
Lead Vocals, Violin, Mandolin, Guitar
Joshua “Cartiar” Cutsinger
Guitar, Theramin, Percussion, Vocals
Nate Laponte
Guitar, Vocals
Tom Moose
Mandolin, Guitar
Ted Russell Kamp
Michael Jerome Moore


The accessible sounds of Surface to Air are spread throughout this diverse album, which primarily hits on themes of heartbreak, desperation and forgotten dreams lyrically. “Sailing the World Alone” kicks off the album with a rich, folk-rock arrangement and seems to hearken back to Murphy’s 2014 album, Boat Songs. Next comes the upbeat country/pop jam “That Just Might Do the Trick” with some philosophical lyrics such as;

a man only has but one destiny, it’s got a mind of its own, best to let it be…”

The title track “Surface to Air” is the first place where Murphy’s violin takes front and center stage. Overall this track has a nice, subtle musical arrangement featuring rounded bass notes and a mix of dry drums and percussion by Brian McLeod and Andy Reilly. “The Blacksmith’s Fancy” is the first of several instrumentals on this album with an animated fiddle over steady rhythm and beats, while “Dead Weight” is almost new wave in style and features an electric guitar lead and some solo drum beats later on by Adam Gust.

Surface To Air by Chris MurphyThe middle part of Surface to Air features the most quality music on the album. “Vernon Tool & Die” has a jazzy underlying feel with strong acoustic strumming and lead, bluesy/jazz rhythms and piano by Dave Schulz in an overall very interesting and unique track. “Last of the Twickham Blackbirds” features a bright, upbeat acoustic which sets the bedding for a violin lead-in to the pop-oriented verses, similar in vibe to The Wallflowers, with organ textures and steady rhythms throughout. The aptly titled “The Oscar Wilde Waltz” is the best overall violin showcase on this album as Murphy’s exquisite playing is backed by strummed acoustic and subtle bass notes. “Elmira Prison Camp” is a pleasant Americana/rock song with fine vocal melodies and backing harmonies, telling the story of a Confederate prisoner of war in a Northern camp. “Wish You Well” is a somber breakup song with rapid strumming, shuffling drum beats and good bass by Hal Cragin.

Surface to Air winds down with a trio of instrumentals; the excellent funk of “Bugulusa Blues”, the extended lead sections of “Music for a Feast” and the solemn mandolin-led “The Hunter &amp’ the Fox”. In between these is the slide-acoustic fused “Nothing Good Happens” with an outlaw country flavor.

Roots Rock Review logoRed Mountain Blues by Chris Murphy
Released: August 19, 2016
Produced by: Chris Murphy and Joshua Cutsinger
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Red Mountain Blues
Dirt Time
High Country
Black Roller
Kitchen Girl
Cast Iron
Dry County
Walt Whitman
Dig for One Day More
Buckwheat Pancakes
Meet Me Tonight
Johnson County
Chickasaw Fredman
The Lord Will Provide
Chris Murphy
Lead Vocals, Violin
Nate Laponte
Guitar, Vocals
Tom Moose
Mandolin, Guitar
Ted Russell Kamp
DJ Bonebrake
Drums, Percussion


Unlike the previous album, which touches on many sub-genres, Red Mountain Blues is more focused in on the folk/country/bluegrass strain and also acts as more of a direct showcase for Murphy and his sidekick musicians called “The Devil’s Box”. This all begins with the opening title instrumental, which features several turns of lead instruments through this moderately paced jam before Murphy’s fiddle takes center stage.

There is excellent sound quality throughout, each and every song is upbeat and entertaining

This title track is just the first of many instrumentals on Red Mountain Blues, including the pleasant and hypnotic “High Country”, the rapid string-led “Cast Iron”, the moderate and romantic piano and violin of “Walt Whitman”, the banjo and fiddle stomp of “Buckwheat Pancakes” and “The Lord Will Provide”, the acoustic outro to the album, which starts mellow and somber but picks up halfway through.

Red Mountain Blues by Chris MurphyAs for the tracks with lead vocals, there are plenty of pleasant tunes here. “Dirt Time” is slightly country and slightly Celtic folk with Murphy’s fiddle licks between the verses and some harmonized vocals by Herb Pedersen in the choruses. “Black Roller” leans more towards bluegrass with some Gospel elements lyrically, while “Kitchen Girl” is the most country-influenced thus far with a down home feel and good hook and it features mandolin player Tim O’Brien on lead vocals. “Dry County” has some staccato rudiments before launching into a banjo-fueled arrangement, while the darker and more dramatic “Dig for One Day More” is a diddy about the hardships of coal miners. “Meet Me Tonight” works as a traditional country/pop track before the album winds down with a few sparsely arranged tracks, the old west vibe of “Johnson County” and Murphy’s solo fiddle and vocals on “Chickasaw Freedom”.

Beyond  his vocation as a working musician, Murphy is also a sort of musical philosopher who dismisses reports of the music industry’s demise because music itself is timeless, stating;

“In another era I would have played square dances, and loved it. I would have been a court musician in Versailles in the 17th Century, or a violinist in a circus orchestra…”

Murphy will continue touring and recording for the foreseeable future as well as breaking his music into the European market. The third album release of 2016, called The Tinkers Dream is set to drop on November 11th.


Chris Murphy online

Chris Murphy on Facebook
Chris Murphy website
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Buy Red Mountain Blues