Country blues, which is also known as "folk blues," is a primarily an acoustic guitar-oriented type of blues from which many other styles are derived. It often incorporated elements of gospel, ragtime, hillbilly, and Dixieland jazz. The popularity and hit records of original country blues artists like Mississippi's Charley Patton, or Blind Lemon Jefferson from Texas would subsequently influence scores of musicians across the Southern United States.
Each regional derivative of country blues has placed its own distinct imprint on the unique acoustic blues sound. In the Carolinas and Georgia, artists like Blind Boy Fuller and Brownie McGhee added a fingerpicking guitar technique to create the Piedmont blues style. The Memphis acoustic blues sound developed out of the city's jugband and vaudeville traditions, and was defined by artists like Furry Lewis and Will Shade.
Country Comes To Chicago
Chicago was originally a hotbed of country blues, as first generation artists like Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and Memphis Minnie brought their acoustic style to the big city before the popularity of amplified instrumentation transformed the sound of the city into what today we consider the "classic" Chicago blues sound. Chicago's country blues relied heavily on what is called the "hokum" style, a lighthearted sound that often included double-entendre lyrics. Ragtime and Dixieland jazz also influenced the early Chicago blues sound.
Original Texas Country Blues
In Texas during the 1920s and '30s, acoustic bluesmen were developing a style that offered rich, more complex guitar parts, the beginnings of a blues trend towards separating lead guitar from rhythm playing. Texas acoustic blues relied more on the use of slide, and artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Willie Johnson are considered masters of slide guitar. Other local and regional blues scenes - from New Orleans to Atlanta, from St. Louis to Detroit - also left their mark on the acoustic blues sound.
Modern Country Blues
When African-American musical tastes began to change in the early-1960s, moving towards soul and rhythm & blues music, country blues found renewed popularity as the "folk blues" and was sold to a primarily white, college-age audience. Traditional artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson reinvented themselves as folk blues artists, while Piedmont bluesmen like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee found great success on the folk festival circuit.
The influence of original acoustic country blues can be heard today in the work of contemporary blues artists like Taj Mahal, Cephas & Wiggins, Keb' Mo', and Alvin Youngblood Hart.
Recommended Albums: Blind Lemon Jefferson's The Best Of provides an in-depth look at the artist's talents, while Blind Boy Fuller's Truckin' My Blues Away includes fourteen of the singer/guitarist's best songs and performances and is a great example of the Piedmont blues style.
Related Content: Six Pioneering Country Blues Artists