How did Blues Influence Rock and Roll?

When we think of rock and roll, we think electric guitars, amplified sounds, and intricate styles of play, but what if I were to tell you rock and roll would not have existed without simple 12-bar forms, antiphonic textures, or walking bass lines used in blues music? Well I am here to tell you it is true. Blues music is one of the most influential characteristics that gave birth to rock and roll. Beginning in the Mississippi Delta region with African slave work songs and expanding to areas of Chicago and Dallas, blues went on to inspire rock legends such as: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix.

Multiple elements in rock and roll provide evidence of common blues qualities. Rock and roll was influenced by elements of blues instrumentation, rhythm, and purpose. Both rock and blues are composed of drums, guitars, and vocals. As blues was becoming increasingly popular throughout the 1950s, manipulation of notes and amplifying instruments occurred. Muddy Waters, for example, began experimenting with increasing the dynamics of guitars and bending the notes of the guitars to give it a “cry” sound. Does this sound familiar? As blues music developed, it pushed the emergence of rock and roll more and more. Early rock and roll followed a similar rhythm to blues music as well. As it progressed, rock and roll would end up integrating more intense rhythmic elements with an accentuated backbeat, but the foundation was the same. The purpose behind the music, produced by blues and rock and roll, is designed from the same perspective. The goal of both these genres of music is to create music with raw emotion. The blues emotion-driven style of music inspired the same pattern to be followed by rock and roll.

Many famous rock and roll bands were influenced by similar popular blues artists such as: Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Little Richard.  Blues, along with the artists that produced it, was significant in the inspiration of the Beatles. The Beatles had a great deal of respect for Chuck Berry and what he did for music. Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” The Beatles credited Berry for being an important piece for creating rock and roll. Chuck Berry also influenced the Beatles with the lyrical content within his songs. The Beatles performed and recorded multiple covers of Berry’s songs like: “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Carol,” “I Got to Find My Baby,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Johnny B Goode” etc. It is easy to see that blues had an impact on rock and roll because a rock and roll band considered one of the best that ever lived, integrated it into their music.

In the video below, you can hear the blues influence in the Beatle’s song, “Yer Blues”. There is a use of an electric blues guitar and guitar riffs occur at 2:54. The song also shows the use of long drawn out lyrics. The lyrics are about being lonely and having suicidal thoughts, which relates to the emotion involved in blues music.


The Rolling Stones started out playing blues music in Britain and fused it with the rock and roll music they would be known for playing in the United States. The Rolling Stones were also a band influenced by the blues music of Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones covered Berry’s songs like, “Come On”, and solidified the incorporation of blues roots into rock and roll. Muddy Waters was most likely the biggest influence on the Rolling Stones. They actually got the name for their band from the Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone”.  The Rolling Stones often wrote blues songs with a heavier melody than improvisation. The Stones are one of the most obvious examples for showing the effect blues had on creating rock and roll.

Jimi Hendrix relied on a variety of blues artists for inspiration. Hendrix grew up listening to Little Richard, Muddy Waters, and Chuck Berry. Little Richard inspired Hendrix’s blues roots and the sound he wanted to create with his guitar. Jimi Hendrix stated, “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.” Muddy Waters was the first guitarist Hendrix heard and he marveled at the sounds Waters made with his guitar. Hendrix got his rock and roll attitude and over the top performance style from Chuck Berry. Berry was known for his famous duck walk and playing his guitar behind his head and in between his legs. Hendrix would follow by Berry’s example and put on charismatic performances.


In the video above, you can see the performance style and duck walk of Chuck Berry.  Berry gave rock and roll an attitude and indentified rock and roll as a lifestyle. At 0:30 into the video, Berry squats down with his knees bowed inwards before rising again ten seconds later and rocking his body back and forth. Then he squats down and does his famous strutting duck walk at 0:50. Also, throughout the video he plays his guitar at a fast pace and plucks the strings ferociously.–8XOk


In the video above, you can see the similarities between the first video of Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix in their eccentric performances. Throughout the video, Jimi Hendrix is moving all over the stage and breaks out into multiple guitar solos. At 1:20 you can see Hendrix playing his guitar behind his head and then playing his guitar with his teeth at 1:50. Next, at 2:50, he drops to his knees and lights his guitar on fire while taunting the flames to get higher. Finally, he smashes his guitar against the stage.  This video is a testament to the attitude Chuck Berry and the blues gave to rock and roll.

Rock and roll borrowed so many different blues aspects and put them into its music and performances. Integrated blues aspects range from instrumentation to the story told behind the music. Whether influenced by blues music or blues musicians, the fact remains that blues had a monumental impact on the birth of rock and roll.







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What is Blues?

In his documentary, Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, William Ferris presents multiple experiences that occurred as a result of blues music. The short film touches on a variety of narrations concerning blues. These narrations create a perspective about what really makes the blues. The blues is complicated in its identity because it has a diverse meaning. It ranges from a feeling to a musical style or musical form. Blues, in all aspects, has been a powerful musical genre for expression ever since truly emerging in the late nineteenth-century. It is important to understand blues has often articulated a story of troublesome dilemmas. Blues was created and flourished not only for the sound and structure, but also for the meaning behind the music.

Blues music in African American culture emphasizes the story being told within the lyrics and uses unique sounds and timbre of instruments to compliment the story.  Accounts of the blues in Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen extend from B.B. King to a barber in Clarkesdale, Mississippi. Therefore, the documentary shows that blues can be found anywhere and the blues can impact anyone. As shown in Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, a common place to find the blues was within work songs. Work songs are considered by many to be the birthplace of blues. African slaves, transported to America by the slave trade, sang songs while working on southern plantations and continued even after African Americans were no longer enslaved. These work songs served a variety of purposes. Workers adopted singing while working as tools to coordinate work, produce efficiency, and provide entertainment. Singing the blues became common with monotonous labor. The work songs usually followed an antiphonic musical texture along with blues melodies.

The YouTube video above is a perfect example to demonstrate the purpose work songs served in terms of function and musical form. The video is of a song entitled “Rosie” recorded in 1947 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. “Rosie” was produced by inmates at the penitentiary who were required to cut down large trees. The rhythm of the song coordinates with the sound of axe blows. Correlating the rhythm and the chopping sounds of the axes created safer working conditions and higher productivity. When examining the texture of the song, you can hear a call and response texture creating an antiphony.  The theme of the song reveals a common prison theme that is being in love with a woman, but being separated by prison walls. The second verse of “Rosie” contains the lyrics:


“Stick to the promise, gal, that you made me                                                                        Wasn’t going to marry till I go free.”


These lyrics exemplify the kinds of issues blues sought to express and continued to express as blues music expanded. “Rosie” is an example of the influence daily life had on blues and how blues facilitated story-telling pertaining to trials and tribulations.


Another example of a work song in African American culture is “Can’t You Line ‘Em”. Workers laying railroad tracks created this song. It is similar to “Rosie” in that it has an antiphonic texture and the rhythm is used for coordinating work. “Can’t You Line ‘Em” also uses a blues pitch and improvised lyrics. The improvised lyrics provide the workers with expression of freedom and creativity.

While it is true that work songs followed a blues form and style, they are also considered blues in the sense of emotion. “Rosie” is a testament to the emotion factor blues played in African American culture. The fact that the lyrics are about a woman that was left behind shows that prisoners were saddened by this harsh reality and got the “blues”.  Multiple interviews in Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen also show during the time blues was becoming more widespread, emotion had to be a key ingredient. Music has long been a way to express different emotions, and the blues were no different.

The emotion-driven substance of blues continued throughout its development. If it were not for components such as work songs, artists seen in Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, like B.B. King, might not have existed. As the popularity of blues increased in the time of B.B. King and beyond, it was also considered a style based on instrumentation and the way the music was performed. Blues will have a lasting impact on not only African American culture, but American culture as a whole. There is no clear explanation of the blues, but whether emotion, form or style it is all blues and the story behind it is significant.



Kopp, Ed. “A Brief History of the Blues”. August 16,2005.  < >.

Scaruffi, Piero. “Blues Music”. History of Popular Music. 2005.  < >.

Titon, Jeff. Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World’s Peoples. Belmont, CA: Schirmer Cengage Learning. Print.

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What is Music?

Music is a language. Music creates feelings and expresses emotions with each word or sound. Cultures thrive and form identities through music. Though all music is not the same, we as people can understand the message being portrayed  even without knowing or understanding the words. Music is a universal language. It should be something that brings everyone closer together. After all, we all naturally react to music when we hear it. Whether it is the tapping of a foot or bobbing of the head.

Music has been around for thousands of years and has been a tool of creativity and self expression. It is much like an artist who paints pictures to convey a message or feeling. Music does that same thing, but with harmonies and lyrics. We rely on music to entertain us and maintain our well-being. Hearing another culture’s music can help us connect with each other, which I believe is our duty as humans. We all share this earth and it is important to make connections. Different people gravitate towards different music and if we can understand why, then we begin to understand each other and our purpose. We are naturally dependent on people and to form bonds so why not use music as a catalyst to do so?

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