Country blues, which is also known as “folk blues” is a chiefly an acoustic guitar-oriented type of blues where numerous other styles derive. It frequently incorporates elements of gospel, ragtime, hillbilly and Dixieland jazz.
The popularity and hit recordings of first country blues artists like Mississippi’s Charley Patton or Texas’ Blind Lemon Jefferson have influenced scores of musicians across the South.
Every regional derivative of country blues has made an imprint on the acoustic blues sound. In the Carolinas and Georgia, artists like Blind Boy Fuller and Brownie McGhee added a guitar method to create the Piedmont blues style.
The Memphis sound developed from the town’s jug band and vaudeville traditions and was characterized by artists like Furry Lewis and Will Shade.
Country Comes to Chicago
Chicago initially was a hotbed of country blues — first-generation artists like Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie brought their acoustic style to Chicago before the recognition of amplified instrumentation altered the sound into what’s currently considered”classic” Chicago blues sound.
Chicago’s country blues depended heavily on what’s called the”hokum” style, a lighthearted sound that frequently included double-entendre lyrics. Ragtime and Dixieland jazz also affected the early Chicago blues sound.
Original Texas Country Blues
In Texas throughout the 1920s and ’30s bluesmen were developing a style that offered rich, more complicated guitar parts. It indicated that the onset of a blues trend toward breaking lead guitar out of rhythm playing.
Texas acoustic blues depended more on the usage of the slide guitar, and artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Blind Willie Johnson are considered masters of slide guitar. Other local and regional blues scenes –like New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis and Detroit — also left their mark on the acoustic sound.
Modern Country Blues
When African-American musical tastes started to shift in the early 1960s, moving toward spirit and rhythm’n’ blues music, country blues found renewed popularity as the”folk blues” and was popular with a mainly white, college-age audience.
Traditional artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson reinvented themselves as folk blues artists, while Piedmont bluesmen like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee found great success on the folk festival circuit.
The effect of country blues can be heard today in the work of blues artists like Taj Mahal, Cephas & Wiggins, Keb’ Mo’, and Alvin Youngblood Hart.
“The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson” provides an in depth look at the artist’s talents, while Blind Boy Fuller’s”Truckin’ My Blues Away” comprises 14 of the singer/guitarist’s best songs and performances and is a good example of the Piedmont blues style.