Flood of Blues

Blues is rooted music.  Like Charley Patton’s Boll Weevil Blues, it’s often about historical hardship.  One kind of hardship memorialized by The Blues is flooding.  Speaking of the flood of 1927, The Wall Street Journal explains:

Greenville MS 1927

Through an outpouring of deeply personal songs, Delta musicians liberated themselves in creative ways, if not yet in everyday life. Some of the growth of the blues, no doubt, was inspired by advances in recording technology, but much about what inspired the Delta blues we owe to high water. This really was a moment when a group of regional artists responded to the stress of a particular crisis, internalized it in terms of their own oppressive human predicament, and turned it all into something meaningful. The catastrophe was a dramatic occasion that helped Mississippi blacks and their listeners to take notice of intense and revealing individual expressions of emotion with a music as spare and yet dynamic in its possibilities as the Delta landscape. There was blues before the flood, but after the flood, blues was produced with a vengeance.

Or, as Big Bill Broonzy sings in Southern Flood Blues:

Early early one morning water was comin’ in my door

Early one morning water was comin’ in my door

It was the old high river tellin’ us to get ready and go

It was dark and it was rainin’ you could hear that howlin’  wind

It was dark and it was rainin’ baby you could hear that howlin’  wind

If I get away this time I will never come here again

For a little bit of Diva Blues, there’s the famous Backwater Blues by Bessie Smith.

Then there’s Charley Patton with High Water Everywhere.

You might be interested in a Bob Dylan tribute to Patton’s song.

Then, for some rip-roarin’ guitar work: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood .

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3 Comments

Filed under Blues

3 responses to “Flood of Blues

  1. MikeInIowa

    John Barry’s book, “Rising Tide” explains how this was the flood that set in motion the idea of using federal dollars for flood recovery efforts. Herbert Hoover was the author of this, which eventually helped get him in the White House. Louisiana actually refused the offer of federal and Red Cross aid for a flood that occurred in 1925. Local problem don’t ya know.
    In regards to the blues, this flood was the beginning of yet another great migration of blacks to northern cities. The depression later helped this migration as well, but it shaped and expanded the genre. And we’re the beneficiaries.

    • Ah yes, that would be Herbert Hoover from West Branch, Iowa. When I was in Iowa City for law school George Nash attended the PCA church in town while he was working on his multi-volume biography of Hoover.

      Anyway, as you say places like Chicago were the beneficiaries of displacement, and urban blues began to be developed.

  2. MikeInIowa

    Ha! Next time I’ll read your link before I comment, so I don’t repeat a point that the link makes……Barry’s book is an excellent read.

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