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Losing The Blues

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

The Blues: it's where rock got its roll, Soul got its soul and naturally the "B" in R & B stands for The Blues.

It's been said that The Blues was born in the fields of the Mississippi River Delta and came to Memphis to grow up.

But where are The Blues now? What happened to juke joints and small record labels that gave us B.B. King, R.I. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and countless others? FOX13 News went in search of an answer and found out, the Blues may not be dead after all. But it has definitely become something different.

If there was no Blues music there would be no Beatles. No Elvis. No Isaac Hayes. Almost every single form of popular American music from hip-hop to country can trace its roots and influence back to The Blues and eventually, right back to Memphis.  

"In my opinion, the most important place in the world in relation to modern music is Memphis," said music producer Boo Mitchell. "Because of all the genres - rock, R & B, soul. All of these different genres came from music that was made there."

And that making began on Beale Street; The Blues breathed life into Beale.

"The Blues was birthed in the Delta and it came on up the river to Memphis," Mitchell said. "It had to come to Memphis to be heard."

Producer Boo Mitchell's father, Willie Mitchell, made sure many of them were heard. Boo sat at his father's feet at Royal Studios in Memphis, watching and listening as the greats worked their magic. From Otis Rush to Buddy Guy, to Bobby Blue Bland.

"But now that we've lost some of these people, it's just now hitting everybody," Boo Mitchell said. "Man, you know, we really have a deep musical history here."

The Blues began as an expression of just that. The Blues brought on by lifetimes of oppression. Even after slavery ended, it was an underground, even forbidden music of the under-privileged that could only be heard on the front porches on Saturday afternoon and in the juke joints on Saturday night.

That is until Beale Street opened its doors.

"You know everybody in Mississippi, if you were in Mississippi and a slave or a share cropper or bluesman, you were trying to get to Memphis because it was like the promised land," Mitchell said.

"It was a promised land that flowed with bent guitar strings and pained voices," he added.

Just 30 years ago, every club on Beale Street had a stage and featured greats like B.B. King, Albert King and Howlin' Wolf. Now, the legends and their music are fading.

"It's kind of evolved into other stuff," Mitchell said. "At one time it got modernized and they call it 'Southern Soul' now. The Delta Blues people were kind of getting away from it."

The purists do not like what they hear. At this year's King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Ark., they talked at length about how to keep their life blood flowing and relevant; all without getting too far away from its roots.

"Blues is so much greater than being able to categorize it and put a scientific name on it and saying this species is the only recognized Blues. It just ain't gonna happen," said Eric Hughes, who sees The blues differently.

"Has to be an old man with a tie and a funny hat playing an acoustic guitar; maybe 70 years ago," Hughes said. "It's different. It's changing."

Don't get the wrong idea. Hughes appreciates the heritage. He even sings it, and he sees hope in a new generation of players embracing the old and laying down their own groove.

"You'll see these guys coming along, and you're just so proud of them," Hughes said. "You just want to sprinkle magic fairy dust on them and mojo and please, please keep doing that young dude!"

But will Blues ever have another heyday? Some of the younger players who see the downward spiral are holding out hope that their music will not die.

"Cryin' shame, cryin' shame," said Brian Wells. "But music tends to go around in circles.  So I do believe it will come back here in the near future."

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