The blues are as old as misery. If she were a woman that would be her name “Miss Ery.” Shakespeare knew the blues when he said, “That friend who toils, and seeks for gain, and follows but for form, will pack when it begins to rain and leave you in the storm.” One of my mother’s favorite quotes, she knew the blues too, and introduced me to them at an early age. My dad would play nothing but the blues on a road trip, from L.A. to Nevada so if you wanted to listen to something else you’d better hide the B.B. King tape. The blues is the one form of secular music my dad would allow, and as omnipotent as they are I’m certain Jesus Christ must have known them too. For he sang them on calvary when he cried out, “My God, my god why hath thou forsaken me?” The blues is any human tragedy or painful situation that once suffered strengthens us and if it does’nt kill us gives us reason to look back, laugh about it, carry on, and continue living. The blues was the forbear for all genres of music. It was sister to the spiritual and reared in the same cotton fields where my ancestors labored without pay from sun up to sun down. It was a language spoken to the other slaves in code that the harvest was ripe for either insurrection or escape. “We gonna steal away, steal away, ’cause we ain’t got long to stay here.” If only I could have been an adult in those hot, dog days of summer, in the back woods of some smoke-filled juke joint dancing in cadence over the cedar wood floors, to the wails of the blues as she gave birth to jazz. In the era when, artist composed and sang by heart, they didn’t sample, or voice-over their work. I would love to have been alive then, in those days before synthesizers and amplifiers, when the best amp was the vocal cord and the primary instrument was the heart.
What I’d give to witness the lilting early voice of Billie Holliday, accompanied by the Prez, in the 1930’s or Muddy Waters, and Etta James. How exciting it must have been to have been present in 1944 when Norman Granz promoted his first concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. I would have been in my element, true daddies girl I am, bobbing my head and tapping my feet, just like in the days of those old chevy road trips to Vegas, to the tunes of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, or Count Basie, but in person. The blues may be as old as misery, but they are as comical as slapstick. As my mom would say, “Child, you gotta laugh to keep from crying.” The blues are a comic reflection of our most intimate vulnerabilities, it is the joyous residual, rush of adrenaline which accompanies triumph over despair, as Lady Day sang it is our way of laughing at life. ~victori