There are many types of music that Detroit is known for. With a long rich history of musicians in nearly every genre, our shining city has been a part of it all. With Motown of the ‘60s and the Detroit techno scene in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, some of our other genres can often be overlooked.
Detroit blues is blues music played by musicians in Detroit, starting around the early ‘40s and ‘50s. Detroit blues originated when Delta blues (one of the earliest styles of blues music) musicians migrated north to Detroit from Tennessee and Mississippi to work in the industrial plants in the ‘20s and ‘30s.READ MORE: COVID-19 Vaccines Saved Nearly 20 Million Lives In First Year, Study Says
Detroit blues was very similar to the Chicago style blues of that time, but the Detroit sound was distinguished with use of electric, amplified instruments and a more eclectic assortment of instruments, including the bass guitar and piano.
The blues scene emerged out of a Detroit neighborhood called Black Bottom (named for the area’s fertile, dark topsoil), which is the area we now know as Lafayette Park. Black Bottom is known for its significant contribution to American music, including blues, big band, and jazz from the ‘30s to the ‘50s.
For this week’s playlist, we’ve decided to dedicate it to five of the most notable Detroit blues musicians – so get your history on and check them out!
John Lee Hooker – arguably Detroit’s most notable blues musician, being one that garnered national attention, John Lee Hooker was one of the men who migrated to Detroit to work at the Ford Motor Company plant in 1948. He felt right at home with the blues venues and saloons near his new home, and it wasn’t long before he began making his own music. His sound was unique with a driving-rhythm boogie style.
Bobo Jenkins – electric blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Bobo Jenkins was heavily involved in the Detroit blues scene. He also built and set up his own recording studio and record label in Detroit. He was a promoter for the first-ever Detroit Blues Festival in 1972, and in the same year, issued his first album. The next year, he was headlining at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival!
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Little Sonny – Little Sonny is a Detroit electric blues harmonica player, singer, and songwriter. His name comes from a nickname that his mother gave him while he was younger, “Sonny boy.” He’s released eight albums during his time, and his 1973 album Hard Goin’ Up reached the Top 50 in the US Billboard R&B chart. He did most of his recording in his Detroit home and performed all around the city in numerous blues clubs.
Nolan Strong & the Diablos – They were a Detroit-based R&B and blues vocal group. The group is known as one of the most popular pre-Motown acts in Detroit during the mid-1950s and early ‘60s. Nolan moved to Detroit at a young age and soon after, started singing and formed the group the Diablos. Today, Smokey Robinson quotes Nolan Strong & the Diablos as “My favorite vocalists of all time.” Oh, and in 2007, Metro Times listed their hit “The Wind” as Number 11 in the list of The 100 Greatest Detroit Songs.
Boogie Woogie Red – He was a Detroit blues, boogie-woogie, and jazz pianist, singer, and songwriter. He’s worked with every big-time blues artist, including Sonny Boy Williamson I, Washboard Willie, Baby Boy Warren, John Lee Hooker, and Memphis Slim. He moved to Detroit at a young age, and in his teen years, began performing in local clubs. In the 1970s, he played solo piano at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor…and toured Europe that same decade.
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Who is your favorite blues artist??