The British Blues Scene of the 1960s

After World War II , England was left with holes in its structures. The shell shock from countless bombings didn’t only send ripples through the waters and lives of the English, but also through their streams of consciousness. A crater, regardless of its creator, can sprout life and wonder from whatever vital elements collect at the bottom. After the war, the English fell into a state or rigidity and conformity. The suits and ties that we relate to 50s and early 60s are not just nostalgic elements of the past, but the former shackles of the people who would soon be liberated. It can be hard pinpoint exactly where the change took place, but most would argue that in the second half of the sixties is where one would be able to see the shift. This shift came from years of a very rigid structure that had been built socially in hopes of recovering with no wounds from the atrocities of the war.

 

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Photo by David Redfern

The youth began trying to make their own path through drugs, sex, and peace and love. From the rubble of the war had risen the Flower Children. They came in all shapes and sizes and titles: Mods, Rockers, Underground, but they had the same goal in mind. This social movement bled into the music and changed what we had come to understand up to this point. Bands like Cream, The Yardbirds, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Troggs, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were the seeds carried in the winds of change that bloomed into a variety of different sounds that depended heavily on where they happened to root themselves.

Much like how the blacks in America felt a sense of isolation in what had become their home, the English teens felt a sense of rejection from the older generation of English. This relationship brought the Blues into the hearts of musicians on the British scene. The Yardbirds,while with Clapton, definitely took on a bluesy flavor in their beginning with tracks like “ I’m a Man” and “Boom Boom” that had deep bluesy influence top to bottom. However, when the band gained some traction in the music industry , Clapton moved onto other endeavors, but we’ll get back to him in just a moment.

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Photo by Clifford Ling(1964)

Pre-Stevie Fleetwood Mac was also steeped in Blues with tracks “Love that Burns” and “How Blue Can you Get” , you can hear the jingle jangle type of drumming and riffs on the guitar that sound like wails of sorrow.

Lyrics in this period of music played an incredibly major role in what made this genre of music key to the time period. Who can forget the powerful soul that Eric Burdon ravishes “House of the Rising Sun”, “It’s My Life”, and “ Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” with. “Spend your lives in sin and misery, in the House of the Rising Sun” and “ It’s my life and I think what I want!” are cries for rebellion and understanding among the youth of this time, but also a politely placed middle finger to the older generation who thought this was just a phase or something they could even begin to suppress.

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This shared experience of isolation and rejection gave fuel to the career of the late and great Jimi Hendrix. Perhaps without the English’s incredible eye for something different and experimental, we would not know or have been exposed to so much of what he had to offer. In an interview with Guitar World, Jeff Beck(Yardbirds) spoke of how Jimi expanded the British Blues Scene,tumblr_o3t64revwb1qcmcv4o1_500

“For me, the first shockwave was Jimi Hendrix. That was the major thing that shook everybody up over here. Even though we’d all established ourselves as fairly safe in the guitar field, he came along and reset all of the rules in one evening. Next thing you know, Eric was moving ahead with Cream, and it was kicking off in big chunks.”(guitarworld.com) Check out the whole interview here

Hendrix had a taste that was deeply influenced by his involvement with and love for the Blues.  His most bluesy tracks “ Hey Joe” , “Voodoo Chile” , and “Red House” were clearly where his roots were, but with tracks like “Purple Haze”, “Love or Confusion”, and “One Rainy Wish” show that the British members, Noel Redding (Bass) and Mitch Mitchell (Drums), brought their home country’s new influences into the music and together they all captured the psychedelic effect.

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Photo by Michael Ochs

Now that we’ve gotten into psychedelics, we can come back to Clapton who dabbled with the Blues and the psychedelic sound with the band Cream. This band, much like the Hendrix Experience took flavors from both sides and made heady medley of absolutely mind-blowing innovation that music hadn’t experienced in this way before.. You can hear Cream’s blues influence in tracks, “Strange Brew”, “Outside Woman Blues”, and Albert King classic “ Born Under a Bad Sign”. Yes, these tracks fall into the more bluesy end of the Cream spectrum as Clapton and Bruce use two-timing man lyrics and scratchy riffs. However, what separates Cream from the any old band is the way they allowed psychedelic music to affect their music in tracks like “Tale of Brave Ulysses” and “Sunshine of Your Love” still took on the storytelling essence of blues but mixed it with the psychedelic mysterious wonderland that had grown to be incredibly prominent.

 

Blooming and booming in the 60s were some of the greatest acts we have ever seen. The elders of this time may have felt like they fought this war for nothing, but I think that had it not been for this war, the youth of this time would never have been able to come together and hope for so much love and peace in a way that the preceding generation had been too afraid to.

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