Louisiana's contributions to the blues are often overshadowed by its contributions to styles like jazz and Cajun. But the roots of the blues run deep in Louisiana. Musicians from every corner of the state have helped shape this classic form while pushing it in entirely new directions—you can hear echoes of it in zydeco, jazz, and the legendary New Orleans rhythm and blues that sparked rock ‘n’ roll.
The Music: Blues
The blues is the music of the rural South arising near the end of the 1800s. It draws from a number of African-American traditions including spirituals, work songs, field hollers and ring shouts. The classic blues song is built around a "12-bar blues" chord progression with the lyrics following a pattern of a line sung twice, followed by a longer third line. Of course there's nothing rigid about the blues. Each song is as individual as its performer.
The People: Blues
You can hear the blues’ origins in Lead Belly’s songs. Born Huddie Ledbetter in 1888, the Mooringsport native’s repertoire included spirituals, folk songs, prison songs and ballads—and, of course, the blues. Likewise, the sound of early Louisiana blues was captured on the recordings of Robert Pete Williams of Zachary.
New Orleans gave rise to performers like James Booker, Snooks Eaglin, Earl King and the legendary Professor Longhair, whose weaving of Caribbean rhythms and the blues created New Orleans’ distinct style. Upriver in Baton Rouge, swamp blues took root under the direction of producer Jay Miller who recorded artists such as Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, Silas Hogan, Henry Gray, Lonesome Sundown and Lazy Lester. The North Shore community of Pontchatoula claims Irma Thomas as a native.
Of course, scores of other blues greats have called Louisiana home including Raful Neal, Buddy Guy, Ernest “Tabby” Thomas and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. And the state continues to nurture a new generation of performers such as Tab Benoit, Larry Garner, Kenny Neal and Chris Thomas King.