The Music We Play

 Big Road Blues is an acoustic band that focuses on pre-World War II blues and related music. We feature guitars (slide, 6 and 12-string), mandolin, harmonica and percussion to accompany solo and call & response vocals.    

Some thoughts on Blues and Our Approach to It


Pre-World War II blues can be viewed as having a dual nature.  It is often structurally formulaic* (both musically and textually), but as a largely solo medium, it has also provided artists with enormous freedom within these parameters (or variations thereof) to create a dazzling range of distinctly personal styles and original ideas that encompass all the elements of musical composition, including melody, harmony, texture and rhythm, as well as poetic expression.*  Big Road Blues applies these contrasting but compatible qualities of uniformity and individuality to fashion new arrangements by combining musical ideas from the recordings of various pre-war blues greats -- the crossing of roots. 

The roots of blues were complex, and included the intersection of many musical and social forces: cross-fertilization between African and European musical elements, the interplay of folk and popular music, the development of regional styles, and contributions from earlier song genres--all driven by interactions between musicians and their audiences in a social and economic environment that was oppressive toward African-Americans.  In addition, the artists who originated this music were crossing both "routes" and "roots", initially through their travels and touring, and later via records and radio as well, which led to the sharing of different regional and personal styles.

Blues reflected the daily struggles and concerns of African-Americans.  The massive migrations from rural to urban areas with the end of Reconstruction (accelerated by the imposition of repressive southern "Jim Crow" laws) became a prevalent theme in blues.  The name "Big Road Blues" (the title of bluesman Tommy Johnson's signature song) suggests this theme of movement and travel.  As blues writer Michael Taft puts it, "Although the main theme of the blues is love...its supplementary themes are movement and the anxiety caused by this movement"* (not to mention the "anxiety" caused by poverty and inequality enforced by the threat of violence), often expressed as a subtext in verses about difficulties in personal relationships.  Blues speaks to all of these issues and, as a powerful survival mechanism, encourages the joy of life even in the face of them.

We have tried to make CROSSROOTS true to the aesthetic of acoustic blues as represented in recordings of the pre-war era, while also offering something new and fresh for our contribution to the genre (much as innovation within tradition has always been charactertistic of blues--and folk music in general).  We hope that our arrangements, such as the call and response group vocals, will make the album accessible to fans of both early downhome blues and more contemporary music.

*(For detailed analyses of these aspects of blues, see Jeff Todd Titon's "Early Downhome Blues" and Michael Taft's "The Blues Lyric Formula.")