New Orleans blues

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New Orleans blues
Stylistic origins Blues, calypso music, Dixieland, rhythm and blues
Cultural origins 1940 and 1950s New Orleans, Louisiana, US
Typical instruments Keyboards, saxophone, guitar, bass guitar, drums
Derivative forms Rock and roll, rock music, soul music

New Orleans blues, is a sub-genre of blues music and a variation of Louisiana blues that developed in the 1940s and 1950s in and around the city of New Orleans, rooted by the rich blues roots of the city going back generations earlier. Strongly influenced by jazz and incorporated Caribbean influences, it is dominated by piano and saxophone but has also produced major guitar bluesmen. Major figures in the genre include Professor Longhair and Guitar Slim, who both produced major regional, R&B chart and even mainstream hits.


As a style New Orleans blues is primarily driven by piano and horn, enlivened by Caribbean rhythms and Dixieland music. It is generally cheerful in delivery regardless of the subject matter, with a laid back tempo and complex rhythms falling just behind the beat. Vocals range from laid-back crooning to full-throated gospel shouting.This music is very unique.[1]


Snooks Eaglin performing in 2006

New Orleans is generally credited as the birthplace of jazz music, but has attracted less attention as a centre of the blues. The 12 bar blues were well known in the city before most of the rest of the country. Buddy Bolden's band was remembered at excelling on playing blues before 1906. Anthony Maggio's "I Got the Blues" was an early example of published blues sheet music from 1908. The Original Dixieland Jass Band's "Livery Stable Blues", generally considered the first jazz record, is in a fast blues form.

Although it has drawn to it and produced fewer blues musicians than other major US urban centres with large African-American populations, it has been the center of a distinctive form of blues music, which has been pursued by some notable musicians and produced important recordings.[2]

In the period after World War II a very large number of recordings were produced in the city that were informed by the blues, but had strong R&B and pop influences that anticipated rock and roll and are difficult to classify.[2] Among these artists among the most highly regarded and most influenced by the blues was piano-player Professor Longhair, whose signature song "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" (1949) and other recordings like "Tipitina" (1959) were major R&B hits and who remained a central figure in New Orleans music through to his death in 1980.[3] Other significant figures playing keyboard-based blues include James Booker, whose organ instrumental "Gonzo" reached the top fifty in the Billboard chart in 1960 and was followed by a series of minor single hits.[4]

Guitar Slim's "The Things That I Used to Do" (1953) contributed to the development of rock and soul music.

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The most significant blues guitarist to emerge from the city in the post-World War II period was Guitar Slim. Originally from the Delta, his "The Things That I Used to Do", which combined gospel, blues and R&B, was a major R&B hit in 1954 and may have influenced the development of later soul music.[2] It also had an impact on the development of rock music, having been included in the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll,[5] featuring an electric guitar solo with distorted overtones.[6] Other important blues guitarists from the city include Snooks Eaglin, who recorded both acoustic folk and electric-based R&B,[2] and Earl King, who composed blues standards including "Come On" (covered by Jimi Hendrix) and Professor Longhair's "Big Chief".[7] Also among the major figures of the genre was Dr. John, who began as a guitarist and enjoyed regional success with the Bo Diddley influenced "Storm Warning" in 1959 and a highly successful career from the 1960s after moving to Los Angeles, mixing R&B with psychedelic rock and using New Orleans themed aesthetics.[8]

The careers of many New Orleans bluesmen declined in the 1960s as rock and roll and soul began to dominate popular music, but revived in the 1970s as there was renewed interest in their recordings.[2]


  1. ^ Cub Coda, "New Orleans blues", Allmusic, archived from the original on 4 June 2011 .
  2. ^ a b c d e R. Unterberger, "Louisiana blues", in V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra, S. T. Erlewine, eds, All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues (Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2003), ISBN 0-87930-736-6, pp. 687-8.
  3. ^ J. Tolf, ed., The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia Jazz and Blues (London: Flame Tree, 2007), ISBN 1-84451-998-8, p. 417.
  4. ^ B. B. Raeburn, "James Booker", in V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra, S. T. Erlewine, eds, All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues (Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2003), ISBN 0-87930-736-6, p. 62.
  5. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Retrieved 2006-11-05. 
  6. ^ Aswell, Tom (2010). Louisiana Rocks! The True Genesis of Rock & Roll. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company. pp. 61–5. ISBN 1589806778. 
  7. ^ T. Downs and J. T. Edge, New Orleans (London: Lonely Planet, 3rd edn., 2003), ISBN 1-74059-193-3, p. 28.
  8. ^ R. Unterberger, "Dr. John", in V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra, S. T. Erlewine, eds, All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues (Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2003), ISBN 0-87930-736-6, p. 157.