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American Roots: The Art of Country Blues


Country blues is an essential part of America’s musical history. It is an art form that transcends its original times, offering a lasting body of material, techniques, and approaches to improvisation. Though its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s is a distant memory for most musicians today, time has not diminished the musical contribution of the early masters. The instrumental, vocal and songwriting techniques, as well as their approaches to improvisation were central to the development of America’s roots music as well as the early jazz styles.

Historically, country blues traditions developed from the collective work of individual musicians. In the 1920’s, itinerant musicians traveled throughout the South and mid-west playing on street corners, at local dances, and in churches. Their music was a confluence of sounds from African chants to the pop music of the day to Appalachian and English folk ballads. There was no one geographic center where musicians would meet. As a result, each artist developed his or her own sound, repertoire and technique. In addition, jobs were scarce and highly competitive, encouraging little collaboration among musicians. The result was a genre rich in sounds and approaches defined by the individuality of the artists.

Country blues is often overlooked as a type of music that existed in a contained time and space that no longer resonates with contemporary aesthetics. But the instrumental and songwriting techniques as well as the approaches to improvisation are central to the development of America’s roots music. It represents the beginnings of the jazz story and pre-cursor to the early styles of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Bix Biderbeck and the musicians who recorded in New Orleans in the late 1920s. Though it’s initial audience is gone, it is a genre that should not just be acknowledged but expanded.

As guitar students, we understand that studying both classical music and jazz allows us to hone our musical skills. Similarly, the concepts specific to country blues provide the basis for a wide variety of playing styles from the early country traditions to jazz and contemporary music. Country blues is an art form defined by a craft. Just as we study the music of the jazz “greats” to develop our skills, learning the techniques of the original blues masters is a curriculum for musical inspiration and creativity.

Please email for a more details on Woody’s American Roots Music; Country Blues Seminars.