Styles & Forms | British Blues
British blues was born when British musicians attempted to emulate Mississippi and Chicago bluesmen during the 1960s. Led by Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones, these musicians copied the styles of Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King, and, aided by powerful amplifiers, developed a sound of their own.
In the early 1950s, the first American blues musician to appear in England was Big Bill Broonzy. Although he wasa popular, Chicago-style bluesman, his UK performances consisted of acoustic folk blues and protest songs. It was Muddy Waters’ visit to the country in 1958 that really sparked off the beginning of the British blues movement. Muddy played with an electric, solid-body Fender guitar, backed by Chris Barber’s English blues group featuring guitarist Alexis Korner and blues harpist Cyril Davies. They played at a volume that shocked folk purists, but delighted a growing younger audience.
Inspiration For A New Generation
After Muddy’s tour, Korner and Davies pursued their musical ambitions even more passionately and formed Blues Incorporated, the first of the British blues bands. By 1962, the group had a regular slot at London’s Marquee Club and a recording contract with Decca. Blues Incorporated inspired a younger generation of musicians, who then formed the three most influential British blues bands: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and the original Fleetwood Mac, with Peter Green. Clapton was a phenomenon with The Bluesbreakers – he turned his amp up to gig volume for recordings and obtained a more modern electric sound that influenced the likes of Jimi Hendrix and also Jimmy Page, who went on to form Led Zeppelin.
Sex, Drugs And Rock’n’Roll
The Rolling Stones were perceived to be the definitive British blues band. They made a stream of hit records during the mid-1960s, including a chart-topping version of Willie Dixon’s ‘Little Red Rooster’ (1964). They also covered songs by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, even insisting that Howlin’ was a featured guest at a special US appearance. Their legendary ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ lifestyle contrasted sharply with The Beatles’ squeaky-clean image during the 1960s.
By 1966, British blues was in full flight: the legendary John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton album was released that year; bands such as Fleetwood Mac, The Yardbirds (with Jeff Beck) and Ten Years After (with Alvin Lee) were forming, and The Animals started to develop their inimitable brand of blues pop. By the end of the decade, the British blues movement was carried back across to the United States, where it was reabsorbed by larger audiences than the original Chicago and Mississippi bluesmen had enjoyed. The success of the British blues bands also encouraged early American blues rock bands such as The Allman Brothers Band and ZZ Top, who had already developed their own unique styles.
Although British blues is now...
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