We Will All Go Together When We Go Sheet Music A Brief History of American Music I: Folk and Americana

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A Brief History of American Music I: Folk and Americana

American music, like American Everything-Else, is a mix of traditions brought here by immigrants (you know, Americans). The first immigrants to New England (get a map; you’ll need it later) were mostly from the British Isles, so our story begins with the folk music of England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. One important thing to note is that Folk music is music played by folk music enthusiasts. This early development took place in the Appalachian Mountains west of where the colonists thought they were. Evolution happens faster in small, isolated populations, and the Appalachian Mountains have created that way of life.

The lyrics were generally Old World ballads, but soon New World ballads were mixed in. The music is based on Old World dances and songs, but it’s hard to say how the Appalachian style came to be because it was never marked. However, one way to get an idea is to track where and when what tools were used. Of the typical instruments used in current Bluegrass, the fiddle was the first to be used, and may be the only instrument used in vocal and dance music. The banjo was introduced by slaves in the 18th century, and the guitar and mandolin were not widely used until the late 19th century. The Appalachian dulcimer did not appear until the late 19th century, but similar instruments such as the Norwegian langelik and the German Scheitholt may have been used in America earlier.

It is difficult to say what of this style survived and how, but what remained of the isolated mountain groups is now known as Bluegrass, which incorporates elements of other musical traditions but retains many of the qualities found in Appalachian music. Modern bluegrass has a strong jazz influence in its structure and harmonies, but the aesthetic is mostly derived from Appalachian music of the late 19th century.

Oh, and don’t think I’ve forgotten about Appalachian chants; we’ll get to that.

Now we come to another hotbed of American folk music, the Mississippi Delta. The Delta region can be seen from Memphis, Tennessee to the north, Helena, Arkansas to the west, Vicksburg, Mississippi to the south, and the Yazoo River, its natural border, to the east. The first blues music was played here. The presence of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers is significant because the waterways have long been the main transportation routes and the cities along the banks were centers of trade, which made them cultural centers.

The Delta Blues model is important for several reasons. The use of “1”, “4”, and “5” chords in eight, twelve, and sixteenth time signatures is common due to this pattern, and songs from this region are often written in the first person. There are many more, but it takes a very good ear to trace the musical lineage back to the present day.

It might not shine on Delta (it will all come together, I promise) but we’re moving on.

In Chicago, the Blues took on a different sound. The guitars are electric, supported by bands, and sometimes have a horn section (a foreshadowing of soul music). Electric guitars fueled energetic and soulful performances, as exemplified by the Chicago Bluesmen. Two particularly important performers were Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, aka Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughn (all copying Buddy), who had a major influence on the rise and subsequent invasion of British blues.

So: We have bluegrass and blues that are closer to rock and roll than folk. But now it is coming together. In America, these patterns were mixed because of population migration. If you take delta blues, clean your tongue and add a smooth beat that you can dance to, for example, you have country music. The blues is also indirectly influenced again through jazz because of its prevalence. Do you see where I was going with this? However, there are a few downsides to tying.

First, prisons. These were great libraries and boxes of American folk music, as prisoners from different regions brought their own music. Many important recordings were made in the prisons of the southern neighborhood. Second, itinerant musicians were instrumental in cross-pollinating these styles and creating hybrid styles of their own. Finally, good news. Of course, each region had its own style. Small Appalachian communities would have small choirs with melodies and harmonies similar to the European tradition, while larger southern communities would have large choirs with melodies and harmonies influenced by black people. This is where the harmonies of Folk and Country songs come into being.

Let’s move forward a bit. To the north was the People’s Boom and to the south was the State. A guy named Chuck Berry did something called Rock and Roll, but it’s not that important now. In the folk boom, the recording technology that accelerated the development of music helped anyone to listen. Country music was a white interpretation of previous black music with electric guitars, but it needed a lot of it. In Tennessee you had people like Johnny Cash and groups like the Stiller Brothers (the great country gospel singers) and out west in California you had “cowboy music” played by Buck Owens. He was a kid who loved folk music, traveled far and wide to develop his skills, and experimented with his own version of Country music in Tennessee. Eventually, he decided to take the new song on the road, so Bob Dylan hired The Band to help him on tour.

The most important thing to know is that The Band invented Americana music. The band formed over the years as a group of rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins’ backing musicians. Hawkins toured them between Helena and Toronto for years until they got sick of it and decided to try their luck and make their own music. When Bob Dylan needed a band for his first electric tour, he got them. They moved to Woodstock after Dylan’s accident and invented Americana in the basement of their rented house called Big Pink.

Their first two albums, Music from Big Pink and The Brown, defined the genre and are must-haves.

Now we’re nearing the end, so please wait a moment. I will do it quickly.

The final chapter in this story is Folk Music and the Sound of San Francisco. In the early 60s, San Francisco was a big part of the Folk boom, which had a lasting influence on San Francisco bands. Jam Bands started out mostly as Bluegrass and Blues bands. As time went by, they went electronic and became more experimental in their performances, but they played traditional American music, and at that time they were very drunk. Sixties later, they approached to get their first gig. influences and aspirations of traditional music.

By the eighties, this music had become so deeply rooted that it became difficult to track its development, but it still exists. Listen carefully.

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