Hill country blues
|Hill country blues|
|Stylistic origins||Blues, country blues|
Hill country blues (also known as North Mississippi hill country blues or North Mississippi blues) is a regional style of country blues. It is characterized by a strong emphasis on rhythm and percussion, steady guitar riffs, few chord changes, unconventional song structures, and heavy emphasis on the "groove" - more affectionately known as "the hypnotic boogie."
Hill country refers to the northern region of Mississippi bordering Tennessee. It is divided between the counties of Marshall, Panola, Tate and Lafayette, and straddles the ecoregions of North Hilly Plain (Red Clay Hills or North Central Hills), the Loess Plains, and Bluff Hills. The hills have poor agricultural soil and wide forested areas, which led to the developments of only small farms, and a lumber industry. Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi are often cited as centers of Hill Country music. The style is regarded as distinct from the blues of the Mississippi delta, which lays west of the hills. An annual picnic is held to celebrate the region and music.
Musical scholars have traced the style's affinity for percussion to influences from West Africa, brought as traditions to the colonies by captive slaves. In the early United States, planters restricted slaves' access to drums and other percussion instruments, fearing the use of drums in arousing rebellion. Robert Palmer believed that after the Civil War, African Americans quickly renewed their long-suppressed percussion traditions. “To begin with, the passage of the Black Codes, which in most states actually predated the Revolutionary War, did not automatically stamp out all slave drumming”.
Palmer also notes:
"David Evans, an anthropologist who has done extensive fieldwork in the Hill Country of Northern Mississippi, recorded black families there who play polyrhythmic music in their homes on chairs, tin cans, and empty bottles. He reports that among the area’s older black fife and drum musicians, making the drums “talk it” – that is, playing rhythm patterns that conform to proverbial phrases or the words of popular fife and drum tunes – is considered the sign of a good drummer. This enduring tradition of fold polyrhythm played an important part in the development of Mississippi Blues”. He writes, “...and [the style] could not have developed in the first place if there hadn’t been a reservoir of polyrhythmic sophistication in the culture that nurtured it”.
Mississippi Fred McDowell was one of the subgenre's most widely known musicians, in the 1960s and after. His music was heavier on percussive elements and African rhythms than traditional delta blues. McDowell's performances helped define the Hill Country Blues sound, influencing later artists such as R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Other influential musicians included multi-talented Robert Belfour and Sid Hemphill.
Burnside, Kimbrough, Othar Turner, and Jessie Mae Hemphill appeared in the documentary Deep Blues and would go on to popularize this sound through the Fat Possum Records label. The families of these artists along with North Mississippi Allstars formed a new generation of Hill Country music. Banjo player Lucius Smith, fife and drum musicians Ed Young and Napoleon Strickland, and guitarist and singer Rosa Lee Hill, also influenced this style. Others, such as Terry "Harmonica" Bean, carry on the hill country blues tradition today.
- "Mississippi hill country blues: an introduction | R.L. Burnside - Junior Kimbrough - Mississippi Fred McDowell - Jessie Mae Hemphill - North Mississippi Allstars". Hillcountryharmonica.com. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
- "Oxford Blues". Mississippi Blues Trail. Mississippi Blues Commission. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- "North Central Hills". MS Archaeology Trails. Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
- Robert Palmer, Deep Blues, New York: Penguin Books, 1982, p. 36.
- Palmer (1982), Deep Blues, p. 37
- Palmer (1982), Deep Blues, p.39
- Palmer (1982), Deep Blues, p.37
- "Mississippi Fred McDowell - Profile of Delta Bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell". Blues.about.com. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
- "Hill Country Blues". Msbluestrail.org. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
- Battaglia, Nicole (2011-04-22). "Here to stay: carrying on the legacy of Hill Country". The Yale Herald. Retrieved 2012-12-10.