Blues Has an Image Problem. Part 1-Evolution
How do we expect the blues to survive if we don’t allow it to change? There far to many blues fans who are wrapped up in the past, unwilling for the music they love to change, all they want is for everything to stay exactly as it was, and resist the new and inventive entirely.
We can’t let that be the way it goes, blues needs to change and adapt in order to survive. We don’t live in rural pre war Mississippi, or in 1950’s Chicago, so why do we insist that music that is relevant to people in those times and places is all the blues can be? I love the old stuff, probably more than I should, and I love the fact that much of the music still resonates. Much, but not all.
The blues cannot survive if we don’t let it change, if we don’t create music that resonates with young people, and provides them with a way of discovering blues then we won’t get new fans, and if we don’t get new fans the old ones will die out (even I won’t live forever) and there will be no-one to keep the blues alive. The level of resistance we put up to new acts or crossover artists is horrible. John Mayer is a brilliant blues guitar player, but it’s not all he does, he has appeal that crosses into pop and AOR and can draw in younger people. We should be welcoming him with open arms, yet when he broke out he was the target for all and sundry across the internet, he was derided for being a copyist, for pandering, for being too heavy and not heavy enough, but what was missed was the fact that in his sets of (damn good) pop songs he would perform blues numbers as well as just about anyone. (For proof listen to Out of My Mind on his live CD Where the Light is, and hear him cause 2000 girls to scream, just like BB did on Live at the Regal.)
Of course it isn’t just John, there’s a huge list of people performing blues who get derided for changing it up, and it isn’t just the blues purists either. Theres a whole other camp of blues fans who think that the music started and stopped with Gary Moore or Stevie Ray, and feel the only thing that is real blues involves loud guitars and extended solos. They don’t want to look back, and neither do they want to move forward, Howling Wolf is too hard to listen to because it doesn’t have big solos, Robert Cray has weedy tone and woe betide the player who doesn’t go all out, full on, head down until the coda. These are the people who shout during a BB King gig to bring back Gary Moore (the support act) because BB wasn’t playing blues (it’s true, I was there), or who walked out of early Jon Amor Blues Band gigs because he wasn’t rehashing The Hoax. These people have found what they like and don’t want anything else, and worse still they don’t want anyone else to get it either.
Now, I’m mot saying we should embrace change, just for the sake of it, nor am I saying there’s anything wrong with the pursuit of traditional blues. What I am saying is we need to be open to change, accept that it is going to happen, and embrace it when it enhances the music or adds something new to the experience. We are talking evolution here, survival of the fittest, the new forms that will survive if, and only if, they are good enough to.