Sunday, December 03, 2006

Blues - The Devil's music? - maybe not

Where did that come from anyway? Well first there's the story about Robert Johnson supposedly selling his soul to the devil. If you haven't heard the story, he met the devil at the crossroads and sold his soul in return for the gift of playing guitar really well. Interestingly, he was not a particularly gifted guitarist at first then he disappeared for some time and came back later as an ace player. Maybe he just practised a lot and got better rather than take the risky route of selling his soul!

Also the old bluesmen were always singing about "mojo hands" etc which was a left-over from their African voodoo past. I guess Christians would consider that the work of the devil.

An interesting fact though is that the blues scales often use the "flat 5th" which gives it that distinctive melancholy unresolved sound. It gained a reputation in the Middle Ages as "the Devil's interval" or "Diabolus in Musica"- a note that sits midway along the chromatic scale. The churchmen of the time thought that anything which sits exactly half way along anything must be the work of God but this note sounded so terrible to their ears so must be the work of the Devil! It was actually banned form being used in any religious music.

Personally I think blues is far from the "work of the Devil". It has a definite healing quality. Certainly for the people who create and play it. Like most music it is an expression of the feelings and emotions of the composer/player. Those old slaves had more than enough emotion and built up angst to get off their chests. It's often what got them through their difficult lives. Many of them converted to Christianity and became devout followers - blues often turned to Gospel and it's not hard to spot the bluesy roots of this fantastic brand of music sung in churches all over America.

Devils' music? - I don't think so - but it's a cool title anyway ;)