Country Blues Style Characteristics and Artists

Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson.

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Country blues, which is also known as "folk blues," is a primarily an acoustic guitar-oriented type of blues from which many other styles are derived. It often incorporates elements of gospel, ragtime, hillbilly and Dixieland jazz. The popularity and hit records of original country blues artists like Mississippi's Charley Patton or Texas' Blind Lemon Jefferson have influenced scores of musicians across the South. 

Regional Derivatives

Each regional derivative of country blues has made an imprint on the unique acoustic blues sound. In the Carolinas and Georgia, artists like Blind Boy Fuller and Brownie McGhee added a fingerpicking guitar technique to create the Piedmont blues style. The Memphis acoustic blues sound developed out of the city's jug band and vaudeville traditions and was defined by artists like Furry Lewis and Will Shade.

Country Comes to Chicago

Chicago was originally a hotbed of country blues—first-generation artists like Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and Memphis Minnie brought their acoustic style to Chicago before the popularity of amplified instrumentation transformed the sound into what is now considered "classic" Chicago blues sound. Chicago's country blues relied heavily on what is called the "hokum" style, a lighthearted sound that often included double-entendre lyrics. Ragtime and Dixieland jazz also influenced the early Chicago blues sound.

Original Texas Country Blues

In Texas during the 1920s and '30s, acoustic bluesmen were developing a style that offered rich, more complex guitar parts. It signaled the beginning of a blues trend toward separating lead guitar from rhythm playing. Texas acoustic blues relied more on the use of the slide guitar, and artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Willie Johnson are considered masters of slide guitar. Other local and regional blues scenes—like New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis and Detroit—also left their mark on the acoustic blues sound.

Modern Country Blues

When African-American musical tastes began to change in the early 1960s, moving toward soul and rhythm 'n' blues music, country blues found renewed popularity as the "folk blues" and was popular with a primarily white, college-age audience. Traditional artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson reinvented themselves as folk blues artists, while Piedmont bluesmen like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee found great success on the folk festival circuit.

The influence of original acoustic country blues can be heard today in the work of contemporary blues artists like Taj Mahal, Cephas & Wiggins, Keb' Mo,' and Alvin Youngblood Hart.

Recommended Albums

"The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson" provides an in-depth look at the artist's talents, while Blind Boy Fuller's "Truckin' My Blues Away" includes 14 of the singer/guitarist's best songs and performances and is a great example of the Piedmont blues style.