Styles & Forms | Blues Rock | Blues

Blues rock grew out of the British blues movement that started during the late-1950s, which was in turn developed in the 1960s. The Brits used more powerful amplification than their American counterparts, resulting in a harder, more imposing sound. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and other artists developed this into a riff-oriented rock style.

Among the earliest blues rock bands were Cream, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Canned Heat. Cream were formed when Ginger Baker, drummer with the Graham Bond Organization, decided to start his own band with guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce. ‘Things were going badly with Graham’, Baker told music journalist Chris Welch, ‘so I decided to get my own thing together. I was unaware that Eric had such a huge following. I just dug his playing, so I went to a Bluesbreakers gig in Oxford. In the interval Eric asked if I’d play a number with them, and it really took off! So I told him I was getting a band together and was wondering if he’d be interested. He said that he was and recommended Jack as the bass player.’

As all three band members were well known around the British blues circuit when they formed, each with a reputation for being a virtuoso on his respective instrument, Cream was, effectively, the first ‘supergroup’. They were louder and more riff-oriented than previous blues-influenced bands, and their style incorporated extended solos – a regular feature for subsequent blues rockers. Despite only lasting for three years, Cream’s first three albums, Fresh Cream (1966), Disraeli Gears (1967) and Wheels Of Fire (1967), are widely accepted as both blues rock classics and milestones in the birth of rock music. Influential American bands had also developed blues rock styles by the late 1960s: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on guitars, and Canned Heat, a white blues band formed by singer Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite and harmonica player Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson, were the most notable of these.

A Dazzling Showman

Another key figure in the transition from blues to rock was the legendary Jimi Hendrix. Born Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle on 27 November 1942, he later changed his name to James (Jimi) Marshall Hendrix. Influenced by legendary bluesmen such as Robert Johnson and B. B. King as a schoolboy, he taught himself to play guitar before working with musicians such as Little Richard in the early 1960s. His break came when Chas Chandler, the bassist with The Animals, heard him play in New York’s Greenwich Village. Chas persuaded him to move over to London, where The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed, with Jimi on guitar, Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums.

Jimi was a dazzling showman, playing the guitar behind his head and with his teeth, but it was his extraordinary soloing and mastery of controlled feedback that set a new standard...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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