Blues music. Along with it's Jazz counterpart, is the only true American music form. Blues has it's deepest roots in the work songs of the West African slaves in the South. During their back-breaking work in the fields of the Southern plantation owners, black slaves developed a "call and response" way of singing to give rhythm to the drudgery of their servitude. These "field hollers" served as a basis of all blues music that was to follow.
Following the end of the Civil war, black men had few options other than back-breaking manual field labor or becoming a traveling minstrel. Many chose the occupation of traveling minstrel playing raucous, all-night country dances, fish-frys, and jukejoints. These musicians relied on their physical stamina and mental repertoire of many blues songs. Although the lyrics of many blues songs are soulful and melancholy, the music as a whole is a powerful, emotive and rhythmic music celebrating the life of black Americans. The lyrics of the songs reflected daily themes of their lives including: sex, drinking, railroads, jail, murder, poverty, hard labor and love lost.
Although it is difficult to pin down, one of the first documented blues to be written is W.C. Handy's " Memphis Blues" written in 1909. The popularity of country blues grew among Southern black folks during the teens and 1920's. During the late 1920's, with the advent of the 78 RPM phonograph, some of the more popular country blues artists were recorded by Paramount , Aristocrat and other record labels. During 1941-1943 the famous blues folklorist Alan Lomax made field recordings of bluesmen in their surroundings. This important body of work served to expose white folks to the blues, as well as give the fledgling artists exposure to national, yet segregated record labels.
During the Great depression, blacks migrated north along the route of the Illinois Central Railroad toward Chicago. They brought with them blues music, and soon the sound of it filled rowdy urban nightclubs. To compensate for the loud crowds and bigger venues, some of the more inventive performers such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, made the switch to electric guitars and added drum sets to their bands.
This new electric Chicago blues was more powerful than its predecessor.
Blues fell somewhat out of popular favor until the late 1950's. In 1958 The Kingston Trio recorded the number 1 hit, Tom Dooley ,and gave birth to the folk revival. For seven years, from 1959-1966, the Newport Folk Festival reintroduced folk and blues music to a mainstream white American audience.
After this time, blues was increasingly merged with rock music to form the rock blues bands of the 1960's and 70's. The Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Led Zeppelin and others carried on the noble tradition of their forefathers, the blues minstrels.