CHICAGO BLUES : What is a Blues Man?

Posted on 9/30/2009 by Monica Yasher

What is a true Blues man? I will utilize my 35 some odd years of hanging with the real deal Southside, Westside, East side, and North side Chicago Artists to try to answer this question. I have humorously answered this question in the past and will try to seriously answer it here.

Please realize that this is my opinion and mine alone.  I will use the term blues man in a generic way as one would use the word mankind. You can substitute gender where you like.

A blues man can be defined in many different ways and in order to define him we must first identify or examine a definition of blues music.  The “Blues” is a feeling that runs the gambit of all emotions from the happiest to the saddest. A blues artist uses music to communicate the emotional feeling he experiences. Just like any other artist he uses a certain type of media to express these feelings. A blues man in this case uses audio.  

A text book characterization of the blues genre is built around a simple framework of the musical scale that utilizes notes of the key signature.  It is principally played in a 12 bar framework. In the key of C the scale would be as follows; C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. If we number each note starting with the low C as the first note of the scale and the D as the second and so forth, we would play the first (C), the fourth (F) and the Fifth note (G) of the scale. This is not a definitive definition by all means, but rather I offer it as a foundation.  John Lee Hooker made a considerable contribution to the genre and he primarily focused on the one or the root note of the key signature.

There are numerous variations to the above definition. Some examples are illustrated in these songs such as the 9 bar format of “The Mississippi sheiks’”  “Sitting On Top Of the World” and the 16 bar format of Herbie Hancock’s   “Watermelon Man”.
John Lee Hooker’s format is clearly shown with his “Boogie Chillun”. This one song hit the top of the charts in 1948 and influenced songs such as; ZZ Top’s “LaGrange”, and Magic Sam’s “I Feel So Good”.
By the previous examples one would conclude that a blues artist is one who plays or uses the above musical framework. This is not the case.  Rock and Roll (Baby of the blues) uses the I- IV- V twelve bar format throughout its genre. Some Rock And Roll musicians who have been labeled Blues men are in fact not.  They are still Rockers. They primarily focus on rock and occasionally venture into the streets of Bluesdom. 
A Blues Man can be defined as primarily playing, that’s right, the blues. An example of this is B. B. King. I do not believe that he has ever ventured away from the blues and tried to do play rock. Just because Rock and rollers have this desire to play the blues does not make them a blues man. I do not care if you are at the top of the music biz. If you earn your living by playing Rock and Roll you are not a blues man, you are a rocker.  
Think of it this way. I served a five year apprenticeship in woodworking.  My primary job was making complex wooden patterns for the steel casting industry. The training I received in those five years served me well over the years. I learned all phases of woodworking, including cabinetmaking.  I could make cabinets, bookcases, furniture, chairs and the like. I could do a cabinet makers job, but I was a wood patternmaker, not a cabinet maker. If you play Rock and Roll and earn money at it you are not a blues man. 
I discussed the above with my friend and blues mentor Wolf Records recording artist Smilin Bobby. I wanted to get his perspective on this essay.  Bob and I have been hanging out together for over 30 years and he is a real Blues man. I read this article to him and he is in total agreement with it. It has a blues man’s stamp of approval.
Smiling Bobby’s new release on Wolf Records is out October 1.

It is called Big Legged Woman Catalog Number CD 120.821

Here is the news release direct from Wolf Records

Wolf Releases



CD 120.821

Smilin’ Bobby & Hidden Charms – Big Legged Woman

His first CD ever!!!

Release date is 1st October.

Smilin’ Bobby always played in small clubs or in corner taverns way out in the suburbs. He is for many blues lovers the favorite unknown bluesman in Chicago. His guitar style is a cross between Magic Slims stinging leads and Magic Sam’s cool little rhythm fills while his great singing doesn’t really sound like anyone else.
In 1958 Smilin’ Bobby started to play music in clubs and playing at Maxwell Street Sunday mornings beginning around 1961 or 62. He became a close friend to Magic Sam and used to hang around at his house. Smilin’ Bobby got his nickname around 62 or 63 because he was always grinning so much. He was influenced by Jimmy Reed and Willie Mabon, also Little Milton, Albert Collins and Albert King. His guitar style is not Delta Blues it is much more modern, somewhere in between R’n‘B and Chicago Blues.
He is now 69 years old and his son Carlos Showers is another great guitar player who played in Willie Kent’s band the Gents.
Nobody knows why Smilin’ Bobby has no CD out until now – but it doesn’t matter. On his Wolf CD you will listen to the best hidden Chicago Blues talent since Vance Kelly.
Smilin’ Bobby is very young with his 69 years!

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copyright 09/30/09 Terrance B. Lape

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