Deciphering Culture

CLASS 6: LEGACY OF THE WEST COAST BLUES

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DECLINE AND REVIVAL OF THE BLUES IN CALIFORNIA.

By the 1960s, the blues was in serious decline throughout the country as it lost favor in the black community and was replaced by other musical styles, particularly Rhythm & Blues, Soul. Some California blues artists left the business; others tried to adapt to the current styles:

(1) Dance Songs

(2) Soul

The blues scene in Los Angeles largely died out. In the Bay Area, a few clubs survived and, in the 1970s, began to attract an increasing number of white listeners. In the last ten decades, there has been a revival of interest in the blues in the black community but the largest number of blues fans in California are white. A few artists from the 1940s remain active, such as Jimmy McCracklin and Johnny Otis, and a second generation of artists came on the scene, many of whom had paid their dues playing with the older blues artists.

Joe Louis Walker started his career as a side-man to such California blues artists as Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin.

Robert Cray was the most influential blues artist to emerge during the 1980s. Cray, who is  from Portland, Oregon, cut his teeth playing Bay Area clubs and developed a sound highly influenced by California Urban Blues. He also drew the musicians for his band from Bay Area club musicians and made his first recordings for a Bay Area record label.

The development of the California blues can be clearly traced back to Texas. The massive migration of African Americans to California during the 1940s—including a large number of musicians—helped create a situation in which Texas blues styles were transformed and adapted in their new settings. However, this was clearly not the entire story. The musical styles the immigrants brought with them interacted with the existing musical culture in California (particularly in Los Angeles). The hybrids and adaptations that emerged out of this interaction were influential in the formation of two new musical styles—Rhythm & Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll—that would dramatically impact musical life in the United States from the 1950s on.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 3, 2010 at 2:29 pm

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