THE AMERICAN BLUES IN BRITAIN
In what ways did American Blues affect English musicians in the early 1960s?
"[Before the Beatles] The pop music in this country was very watery and weak, not worth talking about. Things like Cliff Richard."
-- Pete Townsend of the Who on British popular music in the early 1960s
This lesson looks at the Blues scene in England that prefigured the British Invasion. Though young people there were able to hear Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and other artists associated with early American Rock and Roll, the music they could call their own, British popular music, sometimes left them dissatisfied. As Pete Townsend describes in the epigraph above, he was among those who found the home offerings "watery and weak."
But if one thing marked the U.K. at that time, it was a respect for American music. Yes, for Rock and Roll -- but also for the Blues tradition. Artists who had never left the States came over to England, France, and Germany and found themselves welcomed and celebrated. American Bluesmen like Big Bill Broonzy found they could have careers in Europe when in the States they had little going on. Starting in 1962, the European interest in American Blues was fed by the American Folk Blues Festival, an annual touring festival that brought Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and many more to European audiences intermittently over the next few decades. In the audience for those first shows were future members of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and other major acts of the 1960s and 1970s.
Central to this lesson is a comparison of Cliff Richard and the Shadows, as an example of early 1960s British popular music, with the Blues that a young person in the U.K. might have seen at an American Folk Blues Festival. Students will get a chance to consider what the Blues might have meant to musicians like Cyril Davies, Alexis Korner, and Long John Baldry, all key figures in the British Blues explosion.
Video pages: J.B. Lenoir - Alabama Blues (1965) | Muddy Waters - Got My Mojo Working (1963) | Big Mama Thornton and Buddy Guy - Hound Dog (1965) | The Who - The British Invasion (1966) | Cyril Davies - Got My Mojo Working (1963) | Cliff Richard and the Shadows - The Young Ones (1962)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
Assign one or more of the following:
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.