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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 7, 1998)
IN APPRECIATION OF ...
Story by Sarah Baker
If any musical style has ever
captured the gut-wrenching emo
tion of lost love, the angst of death
or the tears you cried the night
your baby left ya, it’s gotta be
The history of the blues,
although not well-document
ed, is known to have grown
from African spirituals in the
late 1800s. The African music,
which was passed down verbally,
merged with folk and country
music in die United States, and the
blues were bom.
owner of the
Zoo Bar, 136 N. 14th St, said the key to the blues is the
emotion behind the music.
“There’s a feeling that goes along with the blues,”
he said. “There’s something magical about it.”
Most of the original blues performers recorded
only singles, not albums, and the targeted audience was
blacks and poor whites.
This recording style, by single song, is part of the
reason for the relatively bad documentation of the his
tory of the music.
The singles were cheaply made, and some would
become too distorted to hear after as few as six play
ings. Most of these didn’t survive to be heard today, and
if they did, an amazing amount of technical work is
required to make them audible.
Most of the original blues songs, referred to as
Delta blues, feature simple, usually three-chord pro
gressions and have structures that are open to endless
Delta blues originated in Mississippi, often
called “the land where blues were bom.”
Boehmer said there is a big difference
between the Delta blues and the Chicago blues,
which were developed in the late 1940s and early
“Delta is acoustic, where Chicago is louder,
up-tempo and electric,” he said.
The Chicago blues took what the Delta blues
started and improved upon it. The later style
added drums, bass and piano to the original sound
and made room for more singers, harmonicas and
a possible hom section.
Boehmer said one reason for the addition of
the Chicago blues had to do with the invention of
the cotton gin.
“The Delta blues worked its way up the
Mississippi to Chicago when the black workers
came up to cities to find factory work,” he said.
“Some moved to Memphis, but Chicago was the
Boehmer said the music changed once it got to the
“The music had to get louder to compete with the
noise of the city” he said..
Boehmer said most of the original blues artists did
start in the South.
“Most of the artists came from the Mississippi
delta area in the past, and most of them come from that
area today,” he said. “All of the older Chicago guys
came from the South originally.”
Boehmer said there are a few reasons that people
keep coming back to listen to the blues.
“It’s the emotion,” he said. “It hits the public
whether it was 30 or 40 years ago or today. For the blues
to be done well, it has to have that feeling of emotion.
The emotion makes the blues, even though they aren’t
very intellectual, more than just a cerebral experience.”
Boehmer said it takes a special kind of person to
successfully play the blues.
, “Not everyone can play die blues,” he said. “All the
best performers are able to transfer that emotion.”
Boehmer said he couldn’t remember a time when
the blues weren’t a part of his life.
“I first heard the blues when I was 7 or 8, and I’m
an old man now,” he said, laughing. “But I’ve been a fan
for my whole life.”
Boehmer said blues greats like Albert Collins and
Buddy Guy were some of his favorite blues artists.
“A lot of the bluesmen who were the real deal are
dead, and we’re opening up a whole new generation.”
He said it was hard to pinpoint one reason why he
loves the blues.
“I don’t know why I am a fan of the blues,” he said,
‘ ‘other than when I heard it, it was the sound I was look
ing for. When it’s there and done properly, it is very
UGHTNIN’ HOPKINS is just one of the many Southern musicians who popularized black folk
music, including the blues.
PRINTED MATTER I
For those interested in finding
out more about the blues, informa
tion abounds, both in printed materi
al spdqnljne. flere ^re 4 few of the
The Blue Highway, http://www.
thebluehighway.com, offers informa
tion on the history of blues music as
well as biographies of blues greats,
news about new artists, and a “blues
mall” to help find that special, hard
to-find piece of blues memorabilia.
The Blue Flame Cafe, http://
www.blueflamecafe.com/, is an inter
active blues encyclopedia offering
information on almost any blues
artist. It also offers a photo gallery
and links to other sites on the World
The House of Blues, http://
hob.com/, is the national blues club
started by one of the original Blues
Brothers, Dan Aykroyd. This Web
site offers information on blues
artists as well as other artists, upcom
ing shows at the House of Blues, and
live online chats with different
“Nothing But the Blues,” edited
by Lawrence Cohn, 1993. With an
introduction written by B.B. King,
this book traces the origins of blues
music. It is a comprehensive history
of the genre and includes pho
tographs of musicians and fans.
“The All Music Guide to the
Blues” edited by Michael Erlewine.
This book is part of an ongoing series
of AMG books, which are constantly
updated. This guide has reviews and
ratings of more than 2,000 record
ings and profiles of more than 500
“The Big Book of Blues” by
Robert Santelli. This is a biographi
cal encyclopedia that has more than
600 biographies of artists.
Touting itself as the “American
Blues Magazine,” this publication
offers opinion columns, reviews of
compact discs and the latest charts on
blues releases. It also features a large
section of artist profiles.
This magazine, which also fea
tures an online site at
features on blues artists. It also has
articles on blues festivals throughout
the United States, letters to the editor
and news on new artists.
A DAY AT THE ZOO
It started out with a jukebox and a
It has become one of the most
well-known blues venues in the
United States. And it’s right here in
The Zoo Bar, 136 N. 14th St.,
opened nearly 25 years ago and is
still going strong.
Larry Boehmer, owner of the
Zoo, said he brought the first band
into the bar in 1974.
“It was a trial run,” Boehmer said.
“I was still in grad school at the time.”
Behmer said once he graduated
in 1974, he started to manage the bar
“We starred runiiing weekend
bands, and that was successful, so
then we started running bands six
nights a week,” he said.
Boehmer said the bulk of the
music the Zoo plays has been blues.
“We do some other weird things,
too,” he said.
Boehmer said over the years, the
Zoo has attracted a regular crowd.
“We see some different people,
some regulars,” he said. “We see both
young and old. I got a call from a guy
who just moved here from Chicago
and was delighted to find a place like
The Zoo is nationally known for
the blues artists it brings in. Boehmer
said over the years, the Zoo has
brought in blues greats such as
Robert Cray, Coco Taylor, Albert
Collins and Buddy Guy.
Boehmer said the secret to his
success is simple. . -
“The only necessity to be suc
cessful is a love for die music, a love
for the blues.”
A master of the down-home guitar
style, Sam “Lightnin”’ Hopkins was a
gritty and soulful blues man with vocals
to match. When he was 8 years old, he
made his first guitar out of a cardboard
box; and two years later, he was playing
with Blind Lemon Jefferson. Hopkins’
best-known work was recorded for the
Aladdin Label starting in 1946, and this
period is captured excellently in EMI
Records’ 1991 compilation “The
Complete Aladdin Recordings.”
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Despite his brief recording career,
which spanned only three years,
Jefferson recorded more than 100
tracks and remains one of the most
influential country blues artists of all
time. His vocal style has been widely
imitated, and his improvisational
melodic style became the standard for
blues guitarists for years to come. Yazoo
Records’ 1990 release, “Blind
Jefferson - King of the Country
JIJ U1V l/VJl uxuv/uuv
tion to this artist.
Although he lived to be only 27,
Johnson is held as one of the most cele
brated figures in blues history. His
influence on the development of blues
guitar was substantial, and he is said to
have developed his remarkable guitar
skills by selling his soul to the devil.
“The Complete Recordings of
Robert Johnson” (Columbia, 1990), is
a two-disc boxed set that covers
Regarded as the most popular
bluesman ever, B.B. King began his
career in 1951. He is given credit for
helping blues music attain its place in
popular western culture today. King
recorded “The Thrill is Gone” in
1970, which launched him into interna
tional stardom. “King of the Blues,” a
CD box set that contains some of his
best work, was released in 1992.
Born Huddie Ledbetter in 1888,
Leadbelly was one of the first great
popular blues men, and perhaps the
most notorious. Already a convicted
murderer, he was discovered in a
Louisiana prison in 1933, where he was
being held for assault with intent to
murder. But despite his criminal record,
Leadbelly became one of the first black
artists to cross over into the pop culture
of white America, and his mastery of
the 12-string guitar made him a unique
figure at the time. Besides his blues
work, Leadbelly also recorded with leg
endary folk artists Pete Seeger and
Woody Guthrie, and he subsequently
charged his music with politics. Some
of Leadbelly’s better work can be found
on the 1996 release “All-Time Blues
During her heyday in the 1920s,
Smith w£s as known for her personality
as her boisterous blues vocals. Her tal
ent made her into one of America’s most
respected female vocalists and led to
sold-out concerts throughout the coun
try. Her off-stage behavior, which
included excessive drinking and fire
quent f stfights, turned her into a cultur
al icon. Her best work is contained on
“Empress of the Blues 1923-33.”
Muddy Waters was the first of the
great Chicago bluesman and was
responsible for the mesh between deep
Mississippi Delta blues and hard, elec
tric Chicago blues. He is said to have
helped cultivate a new respect for blues
music. “The Best of Muddy, Waters”
(Chess Records, 1958) contains a col
lection of his hit singles, including
“Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Got My
Junior Wells is held as one of the
principal harmonica greats of the post
war Chicago blues era. Wells’ sweeping
solos helped to define the sound of the
blues harp. The 1966 release of
“Hoodoo Man Blues ” which Wells
recorded with guitarist Buddy Guy,
began the reign of one of the most pop
ular Chicago bar bands of the ’60s.
Courtesy Photo .
R.L. BURNSIDE introduced the blues to a new generation, partially by
recording with punk-blues outfit the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. These
recordings were released on the album “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey.”
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