2016 Winter Blues Fest

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February 16 in Iowa is the winter Blue Festival. Put on by the Iowa Blue’s Society this fest is filled with two days of music. A percentage of profits from Marriott is donated to local Blue’s program in schools. The rooms there are sold out. Bands such as Matt Woods, Joyann Parker & Sweet Tea, Scotty & the Wingtips, The Chris O’Leary Band and John Primer are set to perform. 13 acts on six stages in down town Des Moines. There might be bigger shows around the country but this is a very cool little program with bigger things surely to come in the future.

How The Blues Came To Be

The blues is something that we relate to sadness, regrets and loneliness. This is where we got the expression “you got the blues” but that is not just what blues can give us.

Blues is also one of the many genres of music that many people would listen into. Most of the lyrics of the blues songs generally speak a lot about a person’s feelings or emotions. Aside from that, blues songs often speak about how you can go through all the sadness and loneliness that you are feeling. All in all, this genre of music is all about the deeper emotions that we feel in our everyday lives.

For American blues, the history dates back in the 19th century. This is the part of the history where African-americans were still slaves until their predecessors invented this kind of music. The evolution of these slaves’ chanting and singing during their life in the farms eventually became what we know now as blues. Not only that they sing their songs whenever they are happy, sad or even angry of their slave masters.

Blues and jazz are somewhat similar and this is because of the influence of both genres of music with each other within the years of being invented until today. The first blues songs were known to be done from Mississippi near New Orleans and this is also where jazz was also created.

It is understood that there is no person that have created the Blues but there are so many people that claimed to have discovered blues and this is why we couldn’t have gotten a definite date of how or when blues was created.

There were not so many slaves of the 1800s who had a great contribution in revolutionizing the genre of music of genre. Although it was flourishing, the development had declined as the forefathers of the music died. It slowly died with them but there were those that have followed through their footsteps. As time went by, blues has been incorporated into many other and they have infused other music and tunes.

Though we do not need to know more about what blues is, we all know that it is composed of 12 bars or what we call measure and there are notes that are specifically utilized by the music. Blue notes is what we call on those parts of the scale that are individualized.

Known people who pioneered blues in the early 1900s such as leadbelly, Charlie Patton and many more are known to be played by these people with the use of just a guitar. Though there are times that these people would gather together with their fellow bluesman during some ceremonies especially in crop fields or in any of their camps. Jug bands are what their term of how blues have been playing their music before. This Is because of the jug instrument that they use along with their fiddles, harmonicas and even washboards.

When the country blues moved to the cities and other locales, it took on various regional characteristics. Hence the St. Louis blues, the Memphis blues, the Louisiana blues, etc. Chicago bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters were the first to electrify the blues and add drums and piano in the late 1940s. Until the later years of 1900s, blues stayed from countryside and then later carried into the cities and other urban places which were constantly added different variations by people who were really into blues. This is how blues become what it is today. Blues have had a lot of history and background that a lot of people don’t know about. But with all of it, we could say that blues is one of the best genres there is for us to enjoy and entertain ourselves in listening into.

The music influenced scores of future artists such as The Four Seasons and eventual Broadway musicals like Jersey Boys.

History Of The Blues

Blues is a music genre made popular by African-American communities the “Deep South” region of the United States during the late 19th century. It is a combination of African and European folk music covering a wide variety of songs that include shouts, chants, ballads, worship songs, and field hollers. The form of the music can be characterized by the call-and-response pattern, blues scale and chord progression that can also be observed in other genres like jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll. Blue music has also been popular because its groove or the trance-like rhythm that can be heard from it.

Initially, the lyrics of blues songs were made up of a single line that is repeated four times. During the early 20th century, the so-called AAB pattern became a popular form of the lyrics. The earlier blues songs were in the form of loose narrative about the struggles of the African-American society.

ORIGINS OF THE BLUES MUSIC

Though, the first blue music sheet that was published was Antonio Maggio’s “I Got the Blues” in 1908, blues music was thought to come around 1890. It was followed by Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues” and W.C. Handy’s “The Memphis Blues.” Mamie Smith was the first African American singer to record a song in 1920.

Anecdotes on blues music started in Southern Texas and Deep South at the start of the 20th century. It was Charles Peabody who first mentioned blues music when he was in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Gary Thomas also mentioned some blues songs that he heard in Southern Texas. Other people mentioned first hearing blues music in other places like New Orleans, Missouri, Lafayette, and Georgia.

There had also been recordings of “proto-blues” which were eventually lost and non-commercial blues songs that showed different musical styles that defined the development of blues.

The origins of blues music had strong association with the music of Africa that portrayed the religious beliefs of the Africans. The first recorded anecdotes of blues could be traced back to emancipation of slavery and rise of juke joints. In 1908, the first blues music sheet was published. Since then, it had evolved into a variety of styles and subgenres such as country blues, Chicago and West Coast blues. After World War II, electric blues became popular to a lot of people that included white listeners in particular. Blues rock on the other hand rose to stardom during the 1960s and 1970s.

Recorded blues music could be traced as early as the 1920s, a time when “race music” and “hillbilly music” became popular categories for distinguishing and selling music made by black and white people. Generally, blue had been identified as music that came from the Mississippi Delta. It had eventually been used to describe the music that was recorded and sold to black listeners.

Even though, it had some religious influence during its infancy, blues music was deemed as the devil’s music. Blues singers then became completely separate and distinct from gospel singers, guitar preachers and songsters.

KINDS OF BLUES MUSIC

  1. PRE-WAR BLUES

In 1912, three blues-like compositions were published. These included “Baby Seals’ Blues” by “Baby” F. Seals, “Dallas Blues” by Hart Wand and “The Memphis Blues” by W.C. Handy.

W.C. Handy considered himself as the “Father of Blues” though his compositions were a mix of blues, ragtime, and jazz. His most notable work as “Saint Louis Blues.”

Blues had become popular during the 1920s especially among white audiences. Performances had reached bars, theaters, and juke joints. Some recording companies had also started recording blues songs during this time.

Blues music performers also started becoming well-known which included the likes of Bo Carter, Jimmie Rodgers, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red and Blind Blake. Rural blues on the other hand had been made popular by Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and Son House. Other famous blues musicians and bands eventually moved to Chicago and merged to what would become the urban blues movement.

  1. URBAN BLUES (1930s-1940s)

Mamie Smith, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Victoria Spivey were more or less the proponents of this kind of music. Lucille Hegamin became the second woman to make a blues record. Some of the popular male urban blues musicians were Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and Leroy Carr.

Boogie-woogie was also part of the urban blues movement. It was often accompanied with solo piano, singers, and small combos. Boogie-woogie was made pioneered by Jimmy Yancey and the Boogie-Woogie Trio and made more popular by Chicago performers such as Clarence “Pine Top” Smith and Earl Hines.

The big band blues also dominated this period which included the Bennie Moten Orchestra, Jay McShann, and the Count Basie Orchestra. A popular song played by big bands was Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.”

Jump blues came out as a combination of boogie-woogie and big band music. Saxophones and other bass instruments were the predominant musical instrument used in this kind of music. Some jump blues performers were Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner.

  1. 1950s BLUES

The 1950s blues was characterized by the emergence of electric blues music. This kind of music included the sounds of electric guitars, double bass, drums, harmonica, and guitar amplifier. Popular blues musicians included Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Jimmy Reed.

It was also during the 1950s that blues made a huge impact on mainstream American popular music. Consequently, the genre paved its way overseas particularly England. This in turn had influenced the people who would become some of the most famous musicians in the succeeding years.

In Chicago, the ‘West Side Sound’ was made popular by the likes of Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush. Their music was predominantly characterized by the sound of amplified electric lead guitar.

Another genre known as the swamp blues also become popular. It had a slower pace and made use of harmonica. Swamp blues was made popular by blues singers that included Lightnin’ Slim, Slim Harpo, Sam Myers, and Jerry McCain.

  1. 1960s to 1970s

During the 1960s, rock and roll and soul music, both greatly influenced by blues music became popular. A number of blues musicians moved to Europe while some like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters continued performing for their fans. It was also during this period that B.B. King was given the title “King of the Blues.” He became popular with his use of strong bass support in his music.

Renewed interest in blues arose because of music festivals that aimed to revive the genre. As blues music regained popularity, it had also been increasingly popular among white people because of the music of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the British blues movement. Interestingly, the British and blues musicians made huge impact on American blues rock fusion performers like The Doors, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, and many more.

  1. 1980s-2000s

Since the 1980s, efforts had been exerted to continue the traditions of blue music. Some performers who became popular during this period included Bobby Rush, Marvin Sease, Peggy Scott-Adams, and Shirley Brown. There were also musicians who revived some original blues music like Eric Claption.

The succeeding years constituted of the revival of blues music on some areas and its reacquired popularity among certain groups of people aided by modern technology and social media websites like YouTube.

B.B. King

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Riley B. “B.B.” King was a famous American blues singer, guitarist, songwriter, and producer who ranked No. 6 in Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time. His unique style in playing the guitar had been a great influence to many electric blues guitarists. In 1987, he had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He became known as “The King of the Blues” and one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar.” His career in music had been a long one, persisting until he reached his 70s.

LIFE AND MUSIC OF B.B. KING

Riley B. King was born to sharecroppers Albert and Nora Ella King in Itta Bena, Mississippi. His parents split up when he was just four years old and he was left to be raised by his grandmother, Elnora Farr, I Kilmichael, Mississippi. He married Martha Lee Denton (1946-1952) and Sue Carol Hall (1958-1966) but both marriages failed. He was purported to have at least 15 children to various women.

His musical life started when he became a member of a gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. The local minister taught him the first three cords of the guitar. At the age of 12, he was able to acquire his very own guitar. Upon hearing “King Biscuit Time” in 1941, King decided that he wanted to become a radio musician. He resigned from his work in the plantation and joined the Famous St. John’s Quartet as a guitarist. His work with the group let him play in various churches in Mississippi. A performance on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio show on KWEM paved the way for King’s initial success in music. He eventually earned a 10-minute spot on the Memphis radio station WDIA. Due to increasing popularity, it was later renamed as the Sepia Swing Club. It was in this program that he became known as “Beale Street Blues Boy,” “Blue Boy,” and eventually the more popular “B.B.”

King’s first single was “Miss Martha King” produced by Bullet Records. In 1949, he started his sessions with RPM Records. He then proceeded to establishing his own band, B.B. King Review. Afterwards, he did tours in various states like Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and St. Louis.

King’s first number one hit in Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart was “3 O’Clock Blues.” After that, he became more famous during the 1950s with a number of hit songs such as  “You Know I Love You”, “Woke Up This Morning”, “Please Love Me”, “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “You Upset Me Baby”, “Every Day I Have the Blues“, “Sneakin’ Around”, “Ten Long Years”, “Bad Luck”, “Sweet Little Angel“, “On My Word of Honor”, and “Please Accept My Love”. With his earnings, he was able to establish his own record label, Blues Boys Kingdom in Beale Street, Memphis. Some of the artists that he produced were Millard Lee and Levi Seabury.

In addition to his own tour, King also played with various musicians like Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, U2, Dr. John, Koko Taylor and Bo Diddley. He had also received several awards like the international Polar Music Prize and Grammy Award for his song “The Thrill is Gone.” His tours and musical appearance pushed throughout the 1980s until his death in 2015. He also had a “farewell” world tour even though he continued playing in front of an audience afterwards.

In 2014, King had to cancel his remaining shows because of his deteriorating health. It was just less than a year when he had to be hospitalized due to the complications brought about by his high blood pressure and diabetes. On May 14, 2015, he died a natural death at the age of 89.

Even in his death, King was revered by a lot of people. Thousands had come to pay their respects when he was laid to rest in Indianola, Mississippi.

Robert Johnson

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Robert Leroy Johnson was a multi-talented blues singer-songwriter. His recordings which showcased not only his voice but also his talent in playing musical instruments had been greatly influenced a number of musicians. Because he died at a very young age of 27, there were myths about his life that circulated among people of music. The most famous of these stories would probably be the one telling that Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to be successful in the music industry.

Initially, Johnson only played on juke joint and Saturday night dances. It was not after he recorded the LP King of Delta Blues that he begun to be recognized by other people. As of today, he is considered as one of the masters of blues music and is recognized by famous musicians like Eric Clapton. In 1986, he was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also got the fifth place in 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time by Rolling Stone.

LIFE OF ROBERT LEROY JOHNSON

Robert Johnson was the son of a landowner and furniture maker in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Due to some local dispute, his mother was forced to leave their hometown. After two years, Johnson was sent back to his father but his name was changed into Charles Spencer.

In 1919, Robert moved in with his mother and her new husband. He became popular as “Little Robert Dusty” among some of his friends. Using the name Robert Spencer, continued his life there and had been noted by some people to be very skilled in playing the harmonica and jaw harp.

After studying, Robert got married and used the surname of his biological father, Johnson, when he took his vows with Virginia Travis. Unfortunately, she died during childbirth not long after they got married. Some claimed that it was his punishment for making a deal with the devil.

The blue musician, Son House remembered Johnson as a very talented harmonica player who sucked at playing the guitar. When Johnson moved to Martinsville, he did his best to learn Son House’s and Isaiah “Ike” Zinnerman’s guitar styles. People were amazed by this development in his guitar skills when he came back to Robinsonville and it became one of the reasons why people thought Johnson had made some deal with the devil.

Robert Leroy Johnson had children with Vergie Mae Smith and Caletta Craft who had died during childbirth.

ROBERT LEROY JOHNSON’S MUSIC CAREER

From 1932 until 1938, Johnson moved from city to city like Memphis, Tennessee, Helena, and Arkansas. During his travels, he stayed with families and friends and had relationships with a number of women including Estella Coleman, the mother of Robert Lockwood. When playing in front of an audience, he opted to play the more popular music than his darker, original compositions. He appealed to the people because of his charm and talent. And because of this, he had no trouble making friends with people in every town that he went to. People who tried to characterize Johnson concluded that aside from being a talented musician, he was a well-mannered and well-spoken person who had weakness for alcohol and women.

In November 23, 1936, Johnson recorded his first sessions with the help of Don Law. Sixteen selections were included in the recordings and people who had worked with him during the sessions claimed that he faced the wall while recording his songs. Some of the songs that Johnson recorded were Come On In My Kitchen“, “Kind Hearted Woman Blues“, “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Cross Road Blues,” “Terraplane Blues” and “Last Fair Deal Gone Down.” In 1937, he had another recording session with Don Law in Dallas. It was here that almost of the songs in his discography were recorded.

JOHNSON’S DEATH AND HIS INFLUENCE AFTERWARDS

Robert Leroy Johnson died on August 16, 1938 near Greenwood, Mississippi. His mysterious death was surrounded by a number of speculations. Some people thought that he was killed by a husband of one of the women that he had a relationship with. Another theory suggested that he was given a poisoned whiskey during a dance. In addition, no one knew where Johnson was exactly buried. Various markers for his grave were placed in Morgan City and Quito in Mississippi and in North of Greenwood along Money Road.

It was not long after his death that Johnson really became famous among people and other musicians. Some of his songs were hailed by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to have had great impact on rock and roll and rock. Due to the release of King of Delta Blues Singers in United Kingdom, he gained audience from who would be the future rock and roll and rock musicians. Some of these people included Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Alex Korner, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and Fleetwood Mac. Even Bob Dylan had mentioned Johnson as one of his major influences in creating music.

Willie Dixon

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WHO IS WILLIAM DIXON?

William James “Willie” Dixon was one of the most well –known American blues singer and songwriter. He also worked as an arranger and record producer during his lifetime. As a Grammy Awardee, the singer was a very skilled player of upright bass and guitar. He had also gained fame as one of the most influential people in the world of Chicago blues after World War II.

Some of the most famous songs that William Dixon wrote are Hoochie Coochie Man“, “I Just Want to Make Love to You“, “Little Red Rooster“, “My Babe“, “Spoonful“, and “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover“. Aside from being well-known as William Dixon’s compositions, these songs have been recorded by famous blues artists including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Bo Diddley who in turn, had all become influential to a number of musicians. Other famous musicians who covered Dixon’s songs include Cream, Jeff Beck, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix. 

THE LIFE OF WILLIAM DIXON

William Dixon originated from Vicksburg, Mississippi. When he was just seven years old, he became an avid fan of a band that included Little Brother Montgomery. While on prison farms, he became acquainted with blues music and afterwards, he became a member of The Jubilee Singers, a group of gospel singers that regularly performed for a radio station in their town. It was then that Dixon started adding tunes to the poems that he wrote.

In 1936, Dixon left Mississippi and headed out for Illinois to start a career in boxing. He was very fortunate to win the Golden State Gloves Heavyweight Championship. During his career as a boxer, Dixon performed with several vocal groups until his friend Caston had persuaded him to try learning how to play bass and guitar.

DIXON’S CAREER IN MUSIC

In 1939, he immersed himself again in the world of music when he joined Five Breezes with Caston, along with Joe Bell, Gene Gilmore and Willie Hawthorne. Their signature sound combined the blues, jazz, and vocal harmonies in their music. With the onset of World War II, Dixon was imprisoned when he refused to be drafted as a conscientious objector. During the post- World War II, he formed a group called Four Jumps of Jive and afterwards, established the Big Tree Trio with his long-time colleague, Caston.

Dixon started recording with Chess Records but he eventually became a producer, talent scout, session musician and staff songwriter. During his career as a producer, he was able to produce songs for Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and Buddy Guy. Later on, he established his own record label, Yambo Record, with to subsidiary labels, Supreme and Spoonful. In 1971, he released an album entitled Peace? and other singles like those of McKinley Mitchell, Lucky Peterson and others. Aside from winning a Grammy Award for his album Hidden Charms, Dixon was also inducted at the inaugural session of Blues Foundation and into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.

DIXON’S ADVOCACY AND LEGACY

During his last years, Willie Dixon spent his time in fulfilling his duties as ambassador for blues music and an advocate for its artists. With his foundation, Blues Heaven Foundation, he aimed to preserve the legacy of blues music and he helped blues musician in their fight for securing copyrights and royalties for their music. He had high regards for blues music’s role in shaping the American music. In 1977, he and Muddy Waters filed a case against ARC Music. They used what they had won in the case to establish Hoochie Coochie Music.

Because of his diabetes, Dixon’s health gradually declined and it was not long after one of his legs had to be amputated because of complications.

In January 29, 1992, William Dixon died because of heart failure. He was interred in Alsip, Illinois. After his death, his family took over his foundation. He also received a posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Chicago Blues Hall of Fame.

Escaping the Delta

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Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues is a book that discusses the life of the blues legend, Robert Johnson. The book analyzes how Johnson was initially ignored by the black audience and now became one of the most well-known name in the history of blues music. In addition, its pages contain information that will give the reader a glimpse on earlier recording of blues music as well as some memories as told by blues musicians themselves. As the readers finish reading it, the book aims to inculcate a new and fresher appreciation for blues music and its history.

PROS

Fans of Robert Johnson will love how the book focuses on the artists and his influence to blues music. They should also take note that the author tries to disprove some myths regarding the man. Furthermore, a short biography of Robert Johnson entails not only his life but also some of the recordings that he made. It is also quite interesting to point how the book pushes through after Robert Johnson’s death. Because of this, the readers will have some idea on what happened to blues music after one its pioneers died. They will be delighted to read something about the rediscovery not only of Johnson’s blues music but also of other musicians as well that greatly contributed in widening the audience that listen to blues. Lastly, the book will enlighten its readers about some mundane things that were quite popular during the blues era like juke joints and of course, bluesmen.

CONS

Diehard fans of Robert Johnsons may not like that the book focuses on other things aside from the blues artist. They may also dislike the fact that other artists are discussed in the book. Others may disagree on the author’s view and definition on what real blues music really is and moreover, some people who have already read the book also have issues regarding factual errors on some of the information presented in the book.

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

Publishers Weekly applaud the author for telling relating the life of the great Robert Johnson and the development of blues music. From its early history until the time that it became a prominent genre of music, the author gives detailed information as he chronicled the history of blues. Though the book may come across as the textbook type to its readers, it never fails in providing clear and new insights in unveiling the history of blues music. With varying perceptions regarding blues music, the author tries to use Robert Johnson in merging African and American blues. He also gives some entertaining tales of Johnson’s adventures in his life as a blues artist.

Booklist recognizes the author’s effort in discussing the life of Robert Johnson who was initially did not even have much audience to listen to him. In addition, there is a thorough discussion on how Johnson had borrowed some songs from other artists during his career. Lastly, it does not forget how fame got ahold of Robert Johnson when the whites started listening to his songs.

Deep Blues

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Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta describes the origins of blues music from the time that it sprouted in North America. The book does not omit the fact that there were negative thoughts that surfaced when music from West Africa penetrated the lands of the Americans. Photographs of people that influenced the early blues are also included like Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters. The book also discusses how these artists lived during the time that blues music was just starting to become a genre of music that would eventually influence a lot of people.

PROS

Readers will love how the book presents information in a very simple and concise manner but the knowledge that they will gain is broad and deep enough to widen their horizon with regards to blues music. Such manner of writing is sure to appeal to various types of readers whether they are experts or newbies in the study of blues music. In addition, one can trace how blues spread out from place to place and how it became an important factor in contributing to the forms of music that came after it. Furthermore, the readers get to take a look at the transformation that happened to the sounds of music starting from the time that African music paved its way to American soil.

The Blues: A Visual History

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The Blues: A Visual History tells about the history of blues music and how it became the precursor for jazz, R&B, rock, punk, and country. Each facet of blues music is explored as it penetrated the lives of most American homes. Pertinent people that had important roles in the development of blues music are also given some spots on the book like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, and John Lee Hooker. In addition to these people, more artists are included and important information regarding the history of blues music supplement the contents of the book.

PROS

Blues music fanatics will love how the book discusses the history of blue starting from its origins up to the different phases it underwent as it evolved into other genres of music. In addition, there are sections that provide blues playlist, bibliographies, and lots of photographs that will capture the eyes of the readers.

CONS

For the experts or for those who are well-adept in the history of blues music may think that the information presented in the book is already common and can be found on any other book about blues. Those who are looking for more in-depth discussions may not like that the book is filled with a lot of pictures.

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

Library Journal claims that The Blues is the most comprehensive book about blues music produced after a very long time. They recommend it to people who are just starting to learn about the genre. The periodical applauds the sections about the origins and what has been the fate of blues music. In addition, the photographs will be an eye candy for those who want to visualize the history of blues.