Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf are
blues. Big Bill Broonzy is blues. Robert Johnson, Lonnie
Johnson, and probably any other guitar-playing "Johnson" is
blues. The same statement can be made of any black man
playing guitar named "King" -- B.B. King, Albert King, and
Freddie King are all blues. Don King is not blues, but he
doesn't play guitar, so the rule still holds.
Eric Clapton IS NOT blues. Dammit.
Buddy Guy is blues. Phil Guy is blues. Phil Collins is not
blues. Albert Collins is blues. Fat Albert is not blues, but
could be with a name like that. Big Mama Thornton is blues.
Li'l Ed Williams is blues. Robin Williams is not blues.
Deniece Williams is not blues. Denise LaSalle is blues.
Charles Brown is blues, but Charlie Brown and James Brown
are not blues, which is why there is not a "Brown" rule like
the "Johnson" and "King" rules. Rufus Thomas is blues, but
Dave Thomas is not blues. Anybody with an album on Arhoolie,
Alligator, or Yazoo Records is blues. Some people with an
album on Atlantic Records are blues but, up until recently,
may not have been getting royalties for it.
Anybody using a stage name with any of the following
keywords is blues: Blind, Magic, Guitar, Sonny, Junior,
Little, Big, Screaming, Lightning, or the name of a city.
This makes "Detroit Junior" doubly-blues and "Luther 'Guitar
Jr.' Johnson" triply-blues. Having the word "Blue" in your
name doesn't necessarily make you blues, although "Sugar
Blue" and "Bobby 'Blue' Bland," are two notable exceptions.
People with animal nicknames, like Hound Dog Taylor, are
usually blues, but the Animals and Animal of the Muppets are
not blues (though Animal did jam once with Koko Taylor's
Blues Machine). Having "blue" in your album name or your
song title does not make you blues, period. Being physically
blue does not make you blues either -- the Smurfs and the
genie from Aladdin are definitely not blues.
Eric Clapton is blues sometimes. Some say he's blues, but
that he's not very good at it.
Stevie Ray Vaughan was blues. Sometimes he played rock and
sometimes he played other stuff, but he was still blues. The
same can be said of Duane Allman and Johnny Winter, except
Johnny Winter isn't dead yet. Gary Moore is not blues -- he
plays blues sometimes, he has played with two blues "King"s,
and he has a song called "Still Got the Blues For You," but
he is not fundamentally blues. The same statement applies to
Jimi Hendrix, even if he does have an album called
The following people are not blues: Green Day, Madonna, REM,
Whitney Houston, David Lee Roth, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Garth
Brooks, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Zubin Mehta, Julie
Andrews, Michael Jordan, Vanilla Ice, Bill Clinton, Pat
Boone, and Elvira. The last 5 are not even musicians, if you
didn't know, although Bill Clinton will play the saxophone
every now and then. From the previous 2 paragraphs, we see
that being black does not make you blues, and being white
does not make you not blues. Tim Kaihatsu is blues, proving
that it's possible to be Asian and blues.
Eric Clapton IS blues. Dammit.
Any band marketed as "Alternative" is not blues. Any song
that starts with the words, "Woke up this morning" is blues.
Zydeco music isn't really "pure" blues, but it's a hell of a
lot of fun. If you listen carefully enough, Ella Fitzgerald
and Mozart can be blues -- just not the way you think.
Country singers are not blues, no matter how they sing about
how their baby left them and even if their songs begin with
"Woke up this morning." Elevator music is not blues.
(Picture, if you dare, "Boom Boom" with no vocals arranged
for flute and assorted strings. If you were silly enough to
do this, run right out and listen to some John Lee Hooker to
negate the side-effects.)
A whole lot of blues songs are about the evils of women, but
there are plenty of women who are blues. If you disagree, go
take it up with Billie Holliday, Sue Foley, Debbie Davies,
Saffire and the Uppity Blues Women, Bessie Smith, and Katie
Webster (but be aware that Katie and all of the Uppity Blues
Women will probably kick your ass for suggesting the're not
blues). Memphis Minnie would be in this list, too, but she's
covered by the "name of a city" keyword rule.
The Blues Brothers were not really blues, although one of
them is promoting the blues very heavily these days. A
harmonica player is generally a good sign of the blues, but
that doesn't explain Huey Lewis. Elvis, the Beatles, and
Buddy Holly were not blues, but they learned and evolved
from the blues. This applies to the Rolling Stones,
Fleetwood Mac, and ZZ Top as well, but they're not in the
past tense yet.
Eric Clapton is blues if you want him to be. This statement
can apply to just about any artist, except for those listed
in paragraph 8.
Finally, BLUES-L is blues. Most of the time.
Copyright © 1994 by Edward Liu