Today, the Chicago blues scene is in stark transition. Younger blacks are failing to see the music as anything but a relic, leaving an entire tradition largely up for adoption by foreign-born players traveling halfway around the world to learn from the source. Their enthusiasm is helping move the blues from isolated neighborhoods to the global stage, evidenced by Chicago bands that very recently have come to resemble a United Nations portfolio.
This cultural exchange is expanding the music’s songbook with stories it never addressed before and is helping create sophisticated players schooled as much in Van Halen and Led Zeppelin as they are in Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. But advocates worry that the flashy guitar tones and studied technique threaten to replace the personal expression that has long made the music profound.
In Chicago, blues music has always lived, not through television documentaries or books, but primarily through people – the Southerners who populated the city’s South and West sides and who helped pass the music’s foundation on to the next generation. For this reason, the blues has always been a collaborative pact between fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, the grizzled mentors and the eager young followers who sought them out, either from the other side of town or from as far away as Japan.
Well worth reading, for fans of Chicago Blues.