by Steve Houk

About to turn 80, one of the blues’ true pioneers reveals what inspired him to foster a whole new style of the blues way back when.


The blues – many say it began at the end of the 19th century within African-American communities as a mixture of spirituals, work songs, field hollers and chants.

Since then, the blues has taken on many forms – Delta, Piedmont, Jump and Chicago are just some of the styles – with the basic lyric formation, grooves, shuffles and chord progressions taking on various sounds and feels, but always coming back to one thing: I’m feelin’ lowdown, and I need to sing about it. Seventy or so years ago, a young boy in rural Tennessee discovered his own brand of the blues. It was a unique mixture of the gospel music he was singing in his church, the country & western music of the day, and that of some of the most popular musicians of that period. Along with some of his peers, he would help foster this new blues sound, one that would eventually take him around the world singing in front of millions, put him in not one but two Halls of Fame, earn him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, and place him in the pantheon of one of the most beloved musical forms ever created.

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