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Future of the Blues: Bright or Just Blue?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Blues is a quintessential American art form but some believe the genre has lost its way -- and its audience. Others contend that the blues are as vital as ever. Today: a Soundcheck Smackdown debate on the future of the blues.

Joining us is Jim Fusilli , rock critic of the Wall Street Journal; and Dave Rubin, a blues guitarist, critic and teacher.

Comments [25]

Kate from Red Bank (Middletown), NJ

I just caught this podcast and I was stunned by Jim Fusilli's lack of understanding of the Blues scene here in the NY metro area and at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. First of all, the IBC, which is sponsored by The Blues Foundation in Memphis does not choose the contestants; they run the competition and their panelists decide on the rules, winners, etc. However, the contestants are chosen by Blues Societies across the nation and some even from outside the US. Whether they are truly a reflection of what is new and progressive in the genre is not really an issue. These bands reflect the tastes of the individual groups sending them to Memphis. Therefore, to judge the state of the Blues from the IBC is a very limited view of the art form. In addition, The Blues Foundation has its own political agenda and the winners don't ever seem to be the best bands in Blues, although there are notable exceptions like Susan Tedeschi (but she didn't even place first).

Also, looking out from NYC, I can understand why you and a rock critic might think that the Blues is dead. It is alive and well in places like The Jersey Shore, which has a very rich Blues scene. And there are other places around the country which are Blues havens.

I agree that young people are rather uninterested in the Blues and this is a problem. But if you want to explore the Blues, you can't do it from your armchair, you have to get out to the clubs to hear it. It has been incredibly difficult for clubs featuring Blues alone to survive unless they have another revenue stream such as restaurant receipts to keep them going. Many have tried and failed.

The beauty of the Blues scene is precisely that it is live. It is unfortunate that you don't hear it on the radio (with the exception of an hour on weekdays) on WBGO and other songs here and there on college radio. That is just the nature of the beast.

If you want to experience the Blues, you gotta get off your duff and go out! Come to the Jersey Shore or go to some of the great regional or national festivals. There is Blues out there; you just have to look for it.

Dec. 29 2012 11:35 AM

I don't understand where Jim's coming from. Sounds as if he's saying Blues is the same stuff while at the same time he's putting Blues in a narrow box.

I think a lot of information has been left out of the argument too. For example, people listen to music in many ways besides the radio: Internet, digital (e.g. iPod), and satellite.

Then there's the issue where companies such as Clear Channel owning over 1200 radio stations. Let's not forget about the labels/RIAA who put a narrow definition on music and influence the radio stations and the marketing of music. On top of it, they report the popularity of music and the very narrow channel they're pushing.

Oh, and there's the live show issue too, which is another channel to get exposure to Blues. Either you pay way too much for some mainstream RIAA / Clear Channel pushed band/performer, or you can go to clubs. The clubs are more than affordable -- perhaps too cheap (the musicians don't get compensated enough). But from my experience it's difficult to have a regular presence at shows because they start too late for working folk. I believe earlier shows would translate into more Blues fans.

I don't think Blues is dying anymore than any other music. It's just a combination of mainstreams narrow view of artists and music; the inability to effectively measure its popularity over new delivery platforms; the difficulty in catching many live shows; and the competitiveness of other forms of entertainment.

BTW: Lisa Mann is awesome -- she more than earned her place at the Journey to Memphis competition. Check her out,

Jul. 27 2010 05:43 PM

I'm a professional blues musician from a hardcore blues town, Portland, OR. While I think it is a very important discussion, although I am a bit amused by the idea of Fusilli leading the discussion. (ya'll don't know what blues dancers are? wow.)

Anyway, I will be representing Portland at the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in February. I have been warned about the "blues nazis" who judge it, especially since I am a six-string bassist with an R&B and rock influence. I am not traditional blues material, although I have been heartily accepted by even the traditionalists in Portland. Having said that, I will be performing my "bluesiest" original tunes when competing.

While I think it is important to innovate, it is just as important to really be able to play "traditional" blues properly. Then you have a platform to innovate from. I look forward to the chance to show off my shuffle to the blues nazis, and I think it right and proper to have to do so. I think conservative elements in the blues community are vital to keeping the art true.

Jul. 27 2010 04:32 PM
Rosalee Grable from New York City

Blues will outlive all of us.
Check out Eric Guitar Davis, 20th Century Blues. Europe appreciates him, Nashville appreciates him. He grew up under the tables at the original Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago, where his parents were performers. He looks like hiphop, but sounds like the past and the future all at the same time.

Jul. 06 2010 10:39 PM
Matt Hanson from Detroit, Michigan

The Blues is such a foundational form of American Music that it is almost impossible for it to be in decline. Thankfully the Blues has not had to cower to mainstream commercial pressures the way other musical genres do. Comtemporary Blues artists certainly could use some help from today's media outlets, but the heart of the Blues beats strongly!

Jul. 06 2010 07:48 PM
Frank Grimaldi from East Village

There are more young people playing guitar than ever before. The Blues is one of the first things they learn. What are you guys talking about by saying that younger people don't know the blues or aren't exposed to it? Huh?

Jul. 06 2010 02:38 PM
Ted in Atlanta

When they found the body of young blues phenom Sean Costello in a hotel room a couple of years ago I pretty much lost hope. You have to have dynamic young performers that interest the primary club age folks. But now you're talking about Black Keys, here's my case in point. I think they have a great massive old blues sound, and nevertheless, I couldn't listen to them for more than an album, once. It is just too limited and repetitive. I was telling a friend just last week, I went through the blues phase, and surely everyone should... but it's hard to stick with, as man cannot live on bread alone. Bread once in a while is ok though.

Jul. 06 2010 02:37 PM
bob from Manhattan

some advice please for blues places in New York.

Jul. 06 2010 02:36 PM
Jeffrey Levinton from Long Island

The blues is the ancestor of many great forms of music including jazz and rock and of course Rhythm and Blues. Can anyone really think of modern music by the Stones or Jeff Beck without Jelly Roll Morton and Big Bill Broonzy? Yes, the Dinosaurs gave rise to the birds in evolution. If the blues are like dinosaurs...well wouldn't we ALL give our right arms to see a living dinosaur! Let's hope that the tradition remains strong alongside of the descendants. Long live the blues!

Jul. 06 2010 02:33 PM
Yasmin from Brooklyn

Mr. Fussilli is a writer ; English is his language. How can he re-invent English and stay to the language. Has he heard Davell Crawford? I have found a so many styles within Blues i.e. Taj Mahal. There are swinging blues, New Orleans blues, Delta Blues, Texas Blues and if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Jul. 06 2010 02:33 PM
Erin from manhattan

The blues are alive and well in the Mississippi Delta. I recently took a trip to Clarksdale to see the "crossroads" for myself and the juke joints are bumping every night of the week with the likes of Robert Belfour, Terry "Big T" Williams and others. Despite what we've decided has become of the blues, those who appreciate the art continue to perform and harvest it. Some things don't need to be commercially exploited to be interesting and relevant.

Jul. 06 2010 02:33 PM
Cynthia from long island

Every musician in every genre has to make compromises to make a living! This is not just an issue for Blues players!

Jul. 06 2010 02:33 PM
Cynthia from long island

None of this makes much sense to me. It's a tempest in a teapot. The Blues is the The Blues.

If you want to mix it with other stuff, that's fine. If you want to keep it old school, that's fine too. It seems ridiculous to complain about it being "too constricting." If people are passionate about they are doing then they will attract an audience that digs it.

What's with all the whining? If you don't like the Blues Foundation then start a different one.

Jul. 06 2010 02:30 PM
Mike W

I think everyone is forgetting that the blues includes jug bands, fiddle bands, acoustic solo performers. It isn't just bb king or derek freakin trucks.
I'm a 24 year old blues performer and I play banjo and mandolin as well as guitar with a lot of people my age and younger. That is the future of the blues right there.
Young people playing the blues and carrying on the tradition.

Jul. 06 2010 02:29 PM
Cynthia from long island

That Derek Truck was interesting but it's not The Blues.

Jul. 06 2010 02:20 PM
Nick from Upper West Side

Why are you guys looking for "something new" in the blues. There IS nothing new in the blues; that's its defining characteristic. The same three chords. over and over, until you want to shoot yourself.

Jul. 06 2010 02:12 PM
John from Manhattan

Hackneyed, anachronistic perhaps this describes the state of the blues. Certainly, this largely has been my experience as a denizen of the downtown music scene. However, there are those rare occasions when a particular player just has "it." And you say to yourself, "Ah, this is the blues." and all is right with the world.

Jul. 06 2010 02:10 PM
JennS from New Haven

As a blues dancer, I must say I cant stand the idea of blues music being on the decline! I NEEED blues music. ;)

Jul. 06 2010 02:08 PM
big mama thornton in tupelo

I just saw a whitebred couple doing the "terrorist fist bump" in an TV ad. The white strategy for new African inventions in pop culture is threefold, deride it, control it and make money off it, take it over and control it with their own artists. My theory is that Africn people abandon art that they created [rock & roll, blues, jazz, soul] cause white people just cant seem to leave Africans with their own art to themselves. Thank god they can't fake our way of worship or else they would have taken gospel too. That's a bridge too far.

Jul. 06 2010 02:06 PM
Nick from Upper West Side

Honestly, and I'm speaking only for myself of course, the blues has to be, hands down, the dullest music ever created. You've heard one of those songs, you've heard them all.

I used to be a bassist in a blues band; after a few months of that I thought I'd lose my mind from the repetitiousness and sheer lack of musical imagination in blues music.

Jul. 06 2010 02:06 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst, NY

The blues started out being an extremely personal statement from a man or woman. It continued to be so even up to the late '60s. But over the past forty years, its sincerity has been compromised by hackneyed lines and mindless instrumental virtuosity. There are no new phrases, no new hooks, no new melodies. All that’s being played now is what’s been played before, only louder and faster, with no imagination or sincerity.

Jul. 06 2010 11:12 AM
Taz from Oroville,Ca/Kansas City,Mo

The future of the Blues, is the Blues in the schools programs.Many Blues Societies have going in shool music programs.

It is tough to pass on our genre when we have very little(if any) play from radio stations.Why is it that european's get and many in this country don't.

Jul. 06 2010 10:08 AM
Lisa Kesselring from Southeastern Ohio

If you're at my house, you would definately know that my son, Micah Kesselring is keeping The Blues alive and is the future of the Blues. As a matter of fact Otis Taylor declared hi m the Future of the Blues onstage at the 2009 Blues Awards. He is a self taught slide guitarist who plays the Blues from son up till sun down on into the wee hours of the next morning. He writes his own music, sings, plays harmonica,and anything he puts his hands on. He is in the process of his first Blues C.D., plays numerous Festivals in Ohio and other states and everyone who hears him loves his slide guitar and music. He can also tell you about every Blues Musician past and present. You can see him on myspacemusic/micahkesselring. I truly hope someone gives him the recognition he so deserves someday. He would be the one to keep the Blues alive!!!! By the way, he's very handsome and only 16.

Jul. 05 2010 06:26 PM
Annie Katzman from New York City

Hi... there are a few youngsters on the blues scene, one being Quinn Sullivan... and can this kid play! and he's not even in his teens yet. Maybe more kids around his age (boys and girls) will not feel so tied down to middle aged musicians who sort of play blues... but don't really. Quinn played last week at a festival with Buddy Guy... so there you go. More power to him.

Jul. 05 2010 06:22 PM
Rusty from Charlottesville, VA

The blues is experiencing another mini re-surgance with several major artists such as Cindi Lauper and Cheryl Crow releasing blues albums recently, but this is not as significant as the one following the Martin Scorcese PBS documentary and G.W. Bush's "Year of The Blues." The core blues fan base is strong but aging. The younger generation of pop music listeners are shaking off the tendancy to listen to the same stuff year after year until the day that they they die like the blues loving older generation does. Unfortunately this trend will most likely take the blues with it unless some of the newer up and coming artists follow the examples of their predecessors and release a blues album occasionally.

Jul. 05 2010 06:17 PM

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