Folk and folk-blues
Topical folk music became popular in America in the 1930s with the Depression
and the social ills
that it brought. Its most famous exponent was Woody Guthrie. Certain blues artists as well,
however, particularly Leadbelly, may be categorized as folk or folk blues since unlike pure acoustic
blues performers, their repertoire included blues songs as just one of many styles.
This style of music had little impact directly on the Stones. Yet it
was very important as an influence
on the blues background in which they evolved. At art school, the music Keith was exposed to, just
as he was starting to play guitar, was this type of blues, rather than the electric Chicago stuff the Stones later cut their teeth on. In a similar way, when the Stones joined up in 1962 around the Alexis Korner R&B scene in London, the blues they were often exposed to often retained this strong folk or folk blues influence. The Stones eventually rebelled and defined themselves against this particular way of treating the blues, opting for a more electric and rhythmically aggressive format.
JESSE FULLER (1896-1976)
Born in Georgia, Fuller is a guitar player and vocalist (and harmonica
player) who was important in
helping along the acoustic blues revival of the 1950s and '60s. His own success came in writing and
performing folk and blues tunes in the San Francisco area in those same decades.
Fuller's folk-blues, like Guthrie's and
was not the stuff that the Stones were into. He was
a very influential figure, however, in the art school environment in which Keith grew up in his teens
and where he formed his early guitar playing.
started learning guitar, I began attending art school, second year. The
was very free. You'd walk into the john to take a pee and there'd be 3 guys sitting around
playing a guitar, doing Woody Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliott stuff. I was getting into
the blues - Big Bill Broonzy, Jesse Fuller - by hearing these guys play.
WOODY GUTHRIE (1912-1967)
Like Leadbelly, Oklahoma-born Guthrie, though he is probably the greatest
folk singer ever (along
with Dylan), is not much of an influence on the Stones. Guthrie is the incarnation of the topical folk
artist, composing politicized folk material in the 1930s and 40s that defined the genre. He himself had
been influenced by early country artists like the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. He came to be
an important influence on Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, in addition to all the folk artists of the
1950s and 1960s.
Guthrie is worth mentioning, however, because he was a figure, along
with Leadbelly and Broonzy,
whose music Keith was exposed to often during his years at art school in the late 1950s, during the
time he was getting into guitar playing.
I was 15 and there are kids there 19, in their
last year. A lot of music goes on at art
schools. That's where I got hung up on guitar, because there were a lot of guitar players
around then, playing anything from Big Bill Broonzy to Woody Guthrie. I also got hung up
on Chuck Berry, though what I was playing was the art school stuff, the Guthrie sound and
blues. Not really blues, mostly ballads and Jesse Fuller stuff.
Leadbelly is a great figure in Afro-American music, but he represents
somewhat of an outsider in
terms of his influence on the blues. His music is more typically defined as folk-blues, since he sang
not only blues but many types of musical styles, including spirituals and minstrel songs. Born in
Louisiana, Leadbelly spent many years in prison as a convicted murderer and on his release was
discovered by Library of Congress archivist John Lomax, who recorded him and made him the first
Afro-American blues artist to be appreciated by white audiences. His influence, however, was
stronger on the folk audience (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, eventually Bob Dylan), than on the
It was this type of acoustic, folkish blues that Keith was first exposed
to at art school, and which
was also still a discernible influence on Alexis Korner and his musicians in the early 1960s. As with
Broonzy, he may have appreciated it but his greatest passion, and the Stones', lied elsewhere, with
rock and roll and electric Chicago blues especially.
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