When I published my article “Selling the Blues” I did not anticipate how much the idea of re-branding the genre would resonate within the Blues Community. In the coming months the term “Indie Blues” began to crop up in Artist’s one sheets and as descriptions of radio shows across the country and a link to my article was posted on Buddy Guy’s Website ! But as much as it has been embraced by artists and people in the industry, there are some who just don’t get it.
So in the interest of defining the INDIE BLUES MOVEMENT in such a way that it cannot be misunderstood let me lay it out.
What is Blues and What is Not Blues
Ok, this is the most idiotic conversation I have ever been a party to. If you have a very particular type of blues that speaks to you, Great. By all means listen to what you enjoy, stock your library with the artists that speak to you. If you don’t like anything that was created after Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin Wolf, no problem. You have every right to your taste in music and you have every right to only include artists that you like in your personal playlist and not listen to artists you feel don’t define YOUR taste in Blues. But this does not give you the right to use your particular taste in blues to force your definition on a whole genre! Just because someone has a different taste in what Blues is does not mean they are going to change what you listen to! They are not going take your music collection away from you, trust me you are going to be ok. Can’t we all just get along (sorry I just could not resist)!
The bottom line, there are many types of blues, and there is a lot of music that has blues as it’s basis. Blues has been growing and changing for over 100 years! The Blues of W.C. Handy is nothing like the blues of Robert Johnson, which is nothing like the Blues of Muddy Waters, etc. If you don’t believe me all you have to do is listen to the “Brief History of the Blues” audio file and hear the progression for yourself! If nothing else, you will begin to realize the REAL tradition of Blues is the fact that it is ALWAYS changing and evolving. Blues is about the common experience of the human condition, the good and the bad. As people change so does that experience!
The most glaring observation I have about the people that engage in this particular argument, is most times they are among people who do not make a living either creating or performing blues (Remember I said “Making a Living”, not “Making some extra Money”). More times than not they are either fans with extensive libraries of music from a particular blues era which they believe qualifies them as some sort of expert on the subject or one of those weekend blues band musicians that believes they are somehow preserving the blues by playing endless solos over a Muddy Waters riff. What they miss is the fact that none of the artists in their library sat down with their instrument and wrote a song with the thought “Is this Bluesy enough?”! They wrote what they knew with passion and honesty and they performed it in a way that it touched a place in the soul of those who heard it. That is what makes it Blues!
Now, I have done countless interviews with blues artists, both traditional and non traditional. I have had the privilege of having a close working and personal relationship with a blues legend. When you talk to the actual musicians, the people who make a living at creating and performing music in the blues genre, overwhelming they all say the same thing. The Blues MUST Be allowed to expand and grow and we need to allow the artists the ability to create and not put them in a box and restrict them with this downright silly argument. Again you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to any interview I have done and hear it for yourself! Let’s face it, if the creators of the music are tired of this argument, don’t you think it’s time we give it a rest and allow the artists to do what they do best, CREATE!!
What is Indie Blues
INDIE BLUES – Musicians who recognize they are influenced by The Blues artists that came before them and in the time honored tradition of The Blues, are creating New Original Music that reflects their current reality. The music they create communicates with the listener with truth, integrity and touches them on a deep emotional level.
The whole Idea Behind the INDIE BLUES Movement is real simple, get people who would not normally listen to Blues, to open their ears and give it a listen! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “I don’t Like Blues, But I like this” when talking to someone who is listening to an ORIGINAL “Indie Blues” Band for the first time! Think about that for a minute!
There are many “Blues” Based artists, both traditional and non traditional that are creating NEW music who are out there touring and trying to make a living. They need to expose their music to a new Fan Base, If adding a simple word like “Indie” opens some of those fans to give it a listen it is worth it!
Indie Blues is a genre that encompasses any Blues based artist that is creating new music. It does not matter if the artist is creating music in a very traditional blues style or they are creating music that stretches the genre. If they are a working artist that is creating new music and touring as a blues based artist, they are an Indie Blues Artists. This is not a real stretch, since all blues artists today ARE “Independent Artists”! If you think about it, it does allow you to put an end to that ridiculous argument of “What is blues”. If someone says “That is not Blues”, Just tell them they are right, it is not “blues” it is “Indie Blues” and walk away! Now I know this is not going to endear me to the self proclaimed “Purists” out there, but bear with me. The basic idea is to embrace both artists that are creating New Blues in a very traditional form, and those who are creating New Blues that expands beyond the traditional form. Much like country music has embraced their new artists, blues needs to do the same.
Now I can hear all you naysayers out there exclaiming how country music is not country anymore, and how you don’t like what is coming out of Nashville. You know what, you have the option to NOT listen to what you don’t like, but the reality is, this is still a proven business model that is successful and has made country music a major musical force throughout the world!
Now I know that there is a contingent of blues fans out there that believe that we don’t need to get new fans! Yes, they are out there, and they don’t want anyone coming in to “Ruin Blues” (Yes, I have been told that I am Ruining blues!). To them I just have to say “GET OVER IT”!
When I was at the age where I was discovering music (back in the mid 60’s to mid 70’s) there was no talk of genres. It was all about good music! You either liked it or you didn’t like it. The radio stations would play bands like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin along with New Riders, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, etc. It was not about what type of music, but more about how the music made you feel. Today the Blues is so fragmented, because of this dumb argument over what is “Blues” and what is not you need a dictionary to describe what type of blues you are listening to. On the Roots Music Report Charts alone there are 12 sub genres of blues! Blues, Blues Rock, Electric Blues, Urban Blues, Classic Blues, Chicago Blues, Contemporary Blues, Country Blues, Soul Blues, Hill Country Blues, Jazzy Blues and Delta Blues. Then of course you have Memphis Blues, West Coast Blues, Texas Blues, St. Louis Blues, New Orleans Blues, etc etc.! REALLY!?? No wonder we can’t get the genre anywhere, the average listener has no clue what to listen to. In Country music, well you have Country, that’s it.
Now, with that out of the way, the fundamental idea behind the “Indie Blues Movement” is real simple, we need to get people who would not normally listen to blues to at least give it a listen, in particular we need to expand the fan base for the blues artists that are touring and dependent on fans to make a living. We need to embrace new artists that are creating new music that would appeal to a new and different fan base. Remember you honor the past by supporting the future of the blues! Really, this is it. It is not about changing “Blues”. It is not about taking away from the tradition of blues, it is simply a way to overcome the stigma that has been placed on the word “Blues” by those people who have insisted on engaging in the argument over what is or is not blues, and forcing those views on the genre.
Remember, by expanding the music within the genre we increase the possibility of more people that would be attracted to it. That is good for not only the musicians, but for anyone else that actually makes a living creating blues, promoting blues, presenting blues, etc. As I pointed out in my article “Selling the Blues” we need to continually refresh the Blues Fan base. This is Root cause! More Fans equals More CD’s Sold, The More venues that want to present the music, the more gigs a touring blues artists has to fill in his/her tour. This is BASIC STUFF!
On Ramps to the Blues
The idea of creating On Ramps is really a quite simple one, we all came to the blues by way of some “On Ramp”. For my generation we had “Clapton”, “Rolling Stones”, “Led Zeppelin”, etc. For the 80/90’s Generation it was “Stevie Ray Vaughn”. No matter how you got to the blues there was an artist that sparked your desire to explore and discover other artists in the Blues. And the one thing that made them “On Ramps” is the fact that all of these artists were creating music that was relevant to you at the time, and they were upfront as to where their influences came from. They Made it a point to showcase the fact it was The Blues. The Rolling Stones would bring Howlin Wolf as an opening act. Canned Heat would Tour with John Lee Hooker. The list goes on and on. If we want to refresh the fan base with a younger audience, then we have to allow for new On Ramps to be built and we have to embrace them within the genre. This is not a hard thing to understand. Artists like Joe Bonamassa who has made good career and created a strong fan base in the face of the blues purists who just detest him. No matter what you may think, he is an excellent guitar player and between him and J&R Adventures they have found a way around those who believe he is not blues. He is a testament to what an Indie Blues artist could do and I believe he is a case study that should be explored and copied.
There is so much talk about “Crossing over” when it come to blues artists. Gary Clark Jr. is the closest we have to a Cross over artist. But really it is not the artist that crosses over to another genre, it is the fan base that discovers and crosses over to an artist The question is how did he do it?
“I’ve been associated with the blues guitar guy thing, and that is a major part of what I do,” Clark explains to Billboard. “But I was influenced by and love all sorts of music. So for my first major label album, I wanted to just put all that out there and write and record that and experiment with all kinds of sounds rather than play straight-ahead blues or whatever single genre and then bring in the weird stuff later. I think I might as well introduce myself as a weirdo first and get it out of the way and see what happens. It doesn’t sound like people expect, which I think is cool.” (Sounds like the definition of Indie Blues to me)
Well it doesn’t hurt that you are signed to Warner Brothers Music and you have fans in the likes of Beyonce, JayZ, Alicia Keys, etc. You see him at the Billboard Awards, the Grammy Awards, etc. But in reality, his success can be traced to not only the power and money of a major label, but his talent and willingness to not be constricted by a “Traditional” definition of Blues. His appeal crosses from the Young new fan to the older Blues fan, and could be considered another one of the new “On Ramps” to the blues.
Steps in the right direction
It has been proven over and over again that if you expose most people to the “Music” they are going to find something that they like. Let’s face it, Blues is being used in TV, Movies, Commercials, etc and the “Sound” of blues is already associated with an image of being cool. There are Ad Executives making big money finding the right song for a product or movie placement and time and again Blues is being used. Then you have all those “Star Search” shows like the Voice, American Idol, X-Factor, America’s Got Talent, etc who all go crazy when an artist creates a moment using Blues! By presenting the “Music” under a banner that lessens the stigma that has been placed on it, by adding the simple phrase “Indie” we could possibly capitalize on the current media fascination with the “Sound” of Blues and get people who don’t really know what Blues is or what they are listening to, to at least give it a listen. So far, I have seen some indications that it is working!
When I created my “Making a Scene INDIE BLUES Vol1” Compilation I made sure the criteria was based on what the Making a Scene Staff thought was Good Music! There are artists like Benny Turner, who is the Brother of the legendary Freddie King and also played bass with Freddy. There is Bobby Murray who played guitar for Etta James for 22 years, Carl Weathersby who learned guitar from Albert King, Shake Anderson who worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin to BB King! Then there are artists like JPBlues, JP Soars, Eliza Neals, The Balkun Brothers, Joel Da Silva, Sovereign Dame, etc who are all stretching the genre to various degrees. It is important to remember that all of these artists submitted to this compilation through Reverbnation and/or wanted to be part of this project!
I presented this “Compilation” of artists to various radio stations throughout the country(actually over 700 stations), one in particular “The Indie Authority” (A station that is primarily Indie Rock, Heavy Metal, etc,) took the compilation and was so floored by the artists that were presented, they created a show with all 33 artists and they made several of the artists on the compilation their “Artist of the Week” and added many of them to their regular playlists. The response was so positive from their listening audience, they have since offered, and I have accepted to present my Indie Blues Radio show “Live from the Midnight Circus” on their station (which airs every Sunday From 2pm-5pm EST). In addition another station that is primary Jam Band, with an emphasis on Government Mule DeepJams.net also offered to let me present a show on their station (Monday Nights 8pm-11pm EST). Don’t get me wrong these are small steps, but they are steps in the right direction. Bring the music to a fan base that would not be otherwise exposed to the music, and it has all been because of a small catch word, “Indie”. Would either of these stations played “Blues”, maybe, but probably not.
8 Tracks.com reports 19 “Indie Blues” Playlists, LastFm.com lists “Indie Blues” artists, The Indie Shuffle has a listing of “Indie Blue” songs, The Indie Charts, now lists a “Indie Blues” chart, Jukely Lists “Indie Blues” artists, Even DeWolf Music (Music Licencing for movies and tv) has an Indie Blues series! The reality does any one of these mean anything, not really, but the combination starts to add up to what you could call a movement! It may be slow, but considering the term “Indie Blues” surfaced only a few weeks ago in a small article on “Making a Scene” makes you think what could happen if the musicians and their fans took hold of this idea and moved the tide themselves!? A grass roots movement to take back the genre!
Let’s Answer the Critics
Ok, as you can imagine I have received my fair share of criticism over this. Some have outright vilified me. I would like to outline 2 of the criticisms I have gotten and give you my response.
1. Indie Blues is just going to be a genre that will just harbor musicians who can’t make it in Blues and who wants to be associated with that!
REALLY??!!! Ok, I am going to burst everyone’s bubble here. I would venture to say that “Blues” as a genre, MAYBE with the exception of Classic Rock, harbors more sub standard bands and musicians than any other genre. Almost every old guy with a guitar that has mastered the pentatonic scale believes he is the second coming of Clapton(that goes for both blues and classic Rock) and spends hours and hours playing weekend gigs trying to recreate something he barely understands! I don’t believe that “Indie Blues” is in any danger of replacing either of those in that singular distinction. Especially when the lynchpin of “Indie Blues” is based on creativity and originality. Indie Blues indicates that you are a “Working, Touring” artist that is creating NEW ORIGINAL material! Just in case you missed it … the big secret … Shhhhhhh don’t tell anyone ….. but “Indie Blues” IS really blues with just a differant name! We just leave all those cover bands behind.
2. It is never going to work!
You may be right, it might never work. But instead of sitting there and telling me that this is not going to work, then come up with something you think is going to work and implement it. At least I am putting something out there and I am willing to stake my reputation and dedicated my time and effort to try. If you’re not part of the solution, then you must be part of the problem.
What Can you Do?
Bands and Musicians– Spread the Word! List “Indie Blues” as your genre, or at least one of your genres on your one sheet, EPK, Reverbnation, digital distribution, etc. Try and bill your shows as an “Indie Blues” Show. Don’t just market to Blues outlets, hit the colleges, Indie music facebook groups, etc. Think outside the box and hit them with the “Indie Blues” description and see what happens. Really you have nothing to lose! If you are touring through a town, when you advance the show ask if there is a young blues player in town or an old blues legend and offer to bring them up for a song or two, you never know what might happen! We need to support each other lead the way to embrace the new up and coming musicians.
Blues Societies – Search out and embrace young musicians and bands even if they have a different interpretation of blues. Bring them into the fold and mentor them. Create resources in your community to support your local music scene. Blues in the Schools, create an internet radio station, etc. There are many ways for you to become more active in the community and attract younger musicians, fans and ultimately Members! If you have some Blues legends in your area, encourage them to bring up a few young players once in a while and help school them.
Do you have any colleges near your area? Why not create some “Indie Blues” showcases on the campus and allow both young upcoming bands and older established blues artists to participate! Create a student membership level that makes it easier for college students to become members of your blues society! What a great way to fulfill your mission!
DJ’s and Radio Stations – It’s simple, dedicated a major portion of your programming to artist who are creating new, original music. Artists who are actively touring and working to make a living within Blues. Search out artists that fall into the “Indie Blues” description and bring them into the fold. Let your listeners know that these artists are out there touring and when they come to town, support their shows! Also it is important that you take the time to report your spins to either the RMR Charts or to Living Blues Charts (or both!). It does make a difference!
Bands/Fans and everyone else! – At one time Radio was the place to discover new music. Even though it is still important to the artist and their fans, it is not the #1 place where new music is being discovered by the new fans. Let’s face it Blues radio is restricted to specialty shows on non commercial stations, or internet radio shows. Radio has lost much of it’s power manly because of the limited playlists and their lack of desire to discover and play new artists. Commercial radio is controlled by the corporate machine and little to nothing new or innovative is able to break through. Even Triple A radio, which at one time was the gold standard for the independent artist has lost its ability to be a driving force in the industry. Too many of these stations are “Playing it safe” with focus groups determining playlists.
Let’s face it, the future of the music industry is all about the “Stream”! Pandora, Spotify, LastFm, Amazon, Itunes, 8track, Google play, Milk Music etc. You ask anyone under the age of 25 where they discover their new artists and overwhelming they all say the same thing. They are going to tell you about some streaming service that they use on their Smart Phone, Tablet, etc. We need to get “Indie Blues” into the “Discover” matrix of these services. So pick a few of them, register (most are free to register) and start creating “Indie Blues” playlists. Share them around on Facebook, twitter, etc. The more people listen to and share the playlists and the artists on the more they are factored into the “Discover Matrix” or the “Music Gnome Project“.
Artists make sure your digital distribution includes these streaming services.
Here is my “INDIE BLUES” playlists! I will always be looking for and adding new artists to these lists and adding new lists as I go along. So listen to it, follow it and move the music into the matrix! And if you find an artist that you like, search them out, follow them, see where they are playing and GO to a LIVE show!
You can also Follow me on Spotify .. to keep up with any new playslists that I create for “Indie Blues” ..