Styles & Forms | Seventies | Jazz & Blues
Of the entire century, the 1970s were the years of catching one’s breath. Superficially, the promise of the 1960s had faded or failed, the victim of wretched excess and just plain bad taste. America’s war in Vietnam sputtered to an end, international relations elsewhere seemed to stalemate in détente and economically the world suffered from stagflation: exhaustion beset with mixed signals.
Blues and jazz also reached some sort of crossroads. Several blues elders were still active, but their best days were behind them and their appearances often amounted to little more than valedictory trots. North American and European blues festivals sought these veterans as though they were holy men, by their presences condoning the appropriation of their lifelong works. A younger wave of true bluesmen had emerged from Chicago’s South Side, but they did not gain much notoriety or respect. At the same time US jazz artists, disaffected by the turmoil of politics at home and the public’s neglect of their accomplishments in favour of lesser but flashier sounds, sought other avenues in Europe and Japan, where government and corporate funding for jazz ran relatively high. Looking back, great music of the period is identifiable, but at the time such pop genres as progressive rock and disco seemed relatively content-free. The best jazz and blues existed beneath the radar, if not exactly underground. Part of the problem was media-related: FM radio programmed with imagination, but many recording companies had over-extended their investments without adequate gain. The mood was largely: May the seventies end! What’s next?
Sources & Sounds
In the 1970s, rock music continued to reign and infiltrate both jazz and blues. It could be said that the blues took a back seat to its own influence. The root sensibilities and typical three-chord structures of the blues could be detected in the music of hundreds of predominately rock artists and was in some ways a dominant force, but at the same time musicians who could genuinely claim the blues as their own territory were all but obscured from the public eye.
The cross-pollination of blues and rock elements spread as the sounds of the British blues scene crossed the Atlantic Ocean to re-inspire Americans. The Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Cream, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and other British groups motivated younger artists like Johnny Winter (b. 1944), The Allman Brothers Band and ZZ Top to develop their own distinctive hybrids. American bands like the Eagles blended country and rock’n’roll influences with their personal takes on the blues, often achieving tremendous success. Although Duane Allman and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons had little in common when it came to guitar techniques, both ranked among the most popular, influential players of the time. By mid-decade, their blues-enriched sounds were hotly competing with disco on the American music market.
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