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The Joys of Memphis Blues Music

Jul 4, 2008
Memphis blues music is a type of sound that has a very rich history, dating to the early 1900s. Characterized by the songs produced by musicians in the Memphis area like Sleepy John Estes, Frank Stokes, Memphis Minnie and Furry Lewis, it gained popularity and exposure through some medicine shows and vaudeville. Memphis blues music is closely tied to the Memphis night scene, specifically the entertainment district on Beale Street.

Some of the most popular Memphis blues music bands include jug bangs, blues with a guitar base and more recently, electric instruments. The progression of jug band focused Memphis blues music to that with an electrical instrument slant has been an interesting one, to say the lease. When Memphis blues music was first getting popular, the area was economically depressed and many musicians could not afford to buy proper instruments.

Instead of relying on store bought purchases to make Memphis blues music, musicians relied on everyday household things. Items like jugs, harmonicas, washboards, Jews harps, spoons and kazoos were prevalent in Memphis blues music up until the end of World War II.

Following World War II, however, electric instruments became more and more popular among the musicians in the Memphis blues music scene. This is because there was a pretty significant migration of African Americans who were leaving the Mississippi Delta region (as well as other impoverished areas in the south) for larger cities, where there were more jobs and more opportunities. As Memphis was a fairly large urban area, it attracted many of the migrants, including a number of musicians who would go on to shape the Memphis blues music.

As people flooded into the Memphis area, Memphis blues music began to take on a new sound. Musicians like Willie Nix, Ike Turner, Howlin Wolf and B.B. King performed regularly in West Memphis and on Beale Street, finally recording some classic electric blues, rock & roll and rhythm and blues records for labels (Sun Records was popular among many of the better known Memphis blues music players).

Memphis blues music has since then had a huge impact on all different kinds of different genres of music, including rockabillies and rock & rollers (many of which also recorded albums for Sun Records). W.C. Handy, who was cited in the song Walking in Memphis, wrote a song called Memphis Blues in 1912 that was among the first Memphis blues music hit on the charts.
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