1950’s Urban Blues: The Genesis Of It All



Blues music underwent a radical transformation after the Second World War, with its musicians creating the basis of all popular modern music. #blues

The Blues underwent some truly radical transformations at the start of the first decade after WW2. Why did what was once a rural type of truly sad music change? The economy became the strongest in the world. Manufacturing plants sprung up seemingly out of nowhere in the Midwest. All of a sudden, there were good paying jobs with benefits, and unions were strong. The Second Great Migration, where Blacks left the South for a better life elsewhere, was happening. Scenes started springing up all over the country, with all of them breathing new life into what was once considered Black folk music.

Willie May “Big Mama” Thornton, circa early 1950’s, photographer unknown.

Changes in technology, which seemed to be happening up almost weekly, also occurred. Advances in studio technology, such as multi-tracking, became a means to further alter the sound of the Blues. Additionally, the equipment also got better, with advances being made in guitars, as well as the appearance of the electric bass and electric, portable keyboards, which also enhanced the sound.

“When I die, they’ll bury the blues with me. But the blues will never die.”

JOHN LEE HOOKER

During this time, a series of small, independent labels emerged, many of them founded by immigrants or the children of immigrant from Europe. Chess, Modern, Atlantic, etc., were all were willing to do what major labels were not: sign Black artists. Sadly, in many instances, save for probably Atlantic, these labels also screwed over many of their artists, with label heads taking credit for songs they never wrote, cheating artists out of royalties and even, in the case of John Lee Hooker, paying him with a bottle of hard liquor.

Overton Amos Lemons, aka Smiley Lewis, circa mid-1950’s, photographer unknown.

These label heads saw that the Blues, given the right format, could appeal to White record-buying audiences, which is where the money was at. Blues music, during this period, not only was a force unto itself, it gave birth to scenes within scenes, such as West Side Chicago Blues, Southern Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel Blues, Raunchy Blues, Swamp Blues, West Coast Blues, Texas Blues, Soul and even Rock and Roll.

“Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.”

Ray Charles

So, exactly, what was the Blues during the 1950’s? Well, children of the revolution, it was EVERYTHING. Everything you know and love about popular music from when you grew up until today found its roots most importantly right here, decades in the making. Sit back and spend an hour with the genesis of it all.

First Part

  • All Your Love (I Miss Loving), Otis Rush
  • Evil (Is Going On), Howlin’ Wolf
  • Gabbin’ Blues (Don’t Run My Business), Big Maybelle
  • Hard Luck Blues, Roy Brown
  • Blue Monday, Smiley Lewis
  • Don’t Start Me Talking, Sonny Boy Williamson II
  • I Almost Lost My Mind, Ivory Joe Hunter
  • Got My Mojo Workin’, Ann Cole
  • Roll Your Money Maker, Magic Sam
  • Big Ten-Inch Record, Bull Moose Jackson w/Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra

Second Part

  • Lovin’ Machine, Wynonie Harris
  • Walking The Blues, Willie Dixon
  • I’m In The Mood, John Lee Hooker
  • Drown In My Own Tears, Ray Charles
  • Please Send Me Someone To Love, Percy Mayfield
  • Double Crossing Blues, Little Esther w/The Robins & The Johnny Otis Orchestra
  • I Got Love If You Want It, Slim Harpo
  • Rooster Blues, Lightnin’ Slim

Finale

  • They Call Me Big Mama, Big Mama Thornton

Love to you all.

Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner
Host, Producer, Audio Engineer and Writer

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