Thursday, 18 March 2010

Ain't No Substitute for the Blues

I love a bit of punk and ska, and when I'm in the mood, a little Britpop is a nice change too. Tango and indie pop and possibly a smattering of harder rock are all on the menu from time to time. But there ain't no substitute for the blues.

With my dad's ecletic (and often eccentric) music taste unavoidable while growing up, blues has featured heavily in my upbringing. Eric Clapton and BB King and The Animals have been there all along, on vinyl and CD and cassette. I've always loved the blues, but I've never explored it: it's 'old' music, it's outside of teenage fashion. One of the BBC's documentaries on it the other night inspired me to get out the parents' CDs, surf the web for more, and I'm so glad I did.

There are so many things which can be said about blues. For one, it's incredibly simple. Blues guitarist and singer Albert Collins said that "simple music is the hardest music to play, and blues is simple music." When you hear 12 bar blues, 1st, 4th and 5th chords, being played by the masters, you can't feel disdain - it's just not in the catalogue of emotions available. A beginner on most instruments can mess around with its structure, and the blues scales, but only the best can turn that messing into Blues.

There's something instinctive in it which cannot be captured in any other form of music. Those notes, those chords, that simple discontent (your girl's left you, you ain't got no money, you're leavin' town), they give blues music power and strength that most other music can barely touch upon. Blues can depress you or fire you up, turn you on or enrage you; somehow, it can do everything barely using more than three chords.

John Lee Hooker made this post happen. Listening to The Healer, one of his most famous albums, I feel whole again for the first time since... well, since the last music I really connected to. I may be a middle class white girl, but there's something deeply affecting about listening to the story of someone worse off, in the mouth of a brilliant singer or from the moans of a soulful guitar, hearing the same primal emotions, the same mixed bag of thoughts and feelings that we all have. Blues transcends cultures, while drawing you into its own like nothing else can.

Blues is a healer, all over the world.