Most of us are resistant to change, be it good, better or indifferent. Whether it’s a fear of the unknown, basic uncertainty or simple complacency, change tends to stop us in our tracks. This is especially true in music, where the simplest variation can quickly elicit howls of protest from an artist’s fan base. Here in America, we protested Bob Dylan going electric, and across the pond, Muddy Waters’ amplified performances got the same response. Stephen Stills’ upcoming release with his new band, the Rides (profiled in this issue), might encounter a similar response from his folk rock fans—but they would be very, very wrong.
Blues purists have shunned many of the most influential musicians who have drifted towards that genre. Critics called Eric Clapton’s forays little more than the commercial exploitation of “their” genre. When Gary Moore made his transition into the realm with his Midnight Blues Band, he too was met with indifference and derision. Fledgling blues artists like Jonny Lang, the Rides’ Kenny Wayne Shepherd and this issue’s featured artist, Joe Bonamassa, have all met a similar response. Thanks to strong support, and maybe a bit of the folly of youth, none of these young artists let the purist community slow their journey.
Fusions between popular genres bring about incredible new forms of music. Purists may wail, “No, this can’t ever happen!” but how quickly we forget the cross-pollination that created both the blues and jazz, genres we so strongly revere today. Without this transition from pulpit to speakeasy, from Delta to mainstream, we would not have the vivid hybrid of gospel, R&B, soul and rock of artists like Robert Randolph and his Family Band, another of this issue’s featured artists.
No matter what music you were weaned on, I hope we are past thinking that blues can only come from a whiskey-voiced octogenarian picking out tunes on a Delta porch. The sad fact is that we are losing more and more of the legendary voices of the genre each and every year, and without the support (financial and otherwise) of the music community, the new generation of bluesmen and the legends who choose to cross over into that territory may not stick around to carry on the tradition.
And that is something we cannot allow to happen.