Watch the Very Berry: Solo online guitar lesson by Joe Deloro from Blues Rock Road Trip
Chicago's still a Blues town today, mostly because it was a Blues Mecca in the 50's and 60's. There's still a variety of great Blues clubs in the area, as well as the Midwest's most important annual free Blues festival. But before all of this, it was a Jazz town in the 20's and 30's. Let's start there. You'll see why.
Chicago's Jazz era began roughly, when the great trumpeter, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong caught a train up to the "Windy City" in 1922, to play a dream gig with fellow New Orleans native and mentor, Joe "King" Oliver. Chi-town was a beacon of opportunity then for Armstrong, as Hot Dixieland Jazz ("Hot" meaning that all the musicians improvised collectively, in a way, sort of like what Cream would do 45 years later) was just catching fire there. And, the highlife of the "Roaring Twenties", prohibition, bootlegging (the "Jazz Age") were all getting underway. Of course, it all crashed when the Great Depression came in the 30's and the "roar" was forever silenced.
After World War II, in the 40's and 50's, the northern route of opportunity "Satchmo" traveled two decades earlier was taken up again in force. Reaching from New Orleans all the up way to Chicago and beyond, it was traveled by many southern Bluesmen looking for gigs and/or recording careers in the bigger cities like Memphis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Detroit. Whether traveling by, U.S. Highways 61, 55, & 85 or the Illinois Central rail line, it all gradually became known as, "The Blues Highway."
During that period country blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Buddy Guy all headed north for a better life - and maybe even the Big Time.
Some, like the Wolf and Earl Hooker who stopped first to try their luck in Memphis at Sam Phillip's Sun Records before moving on northwards. Whether they traveled by railway or highway, this time, instead of New Orleans Jazz, they brought electrified Mississippi Delta Country Blues. Their "Great Migration" fired up a unique musical melting pot, and pioneered Chicago's new urban Blues sound.
By the time "Johnny B. Goode" was released in 1958, Chicago's music machine was not only established, but successfully pushing the envelope beyond the urban Blues, courtesy of Chess Records. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Chess had now put Chicago on the map as a Rock and Roll city, but not without the help of the Blues and other styles.
To connect the dots for this lesson we head south on the Blues Highway from Chicago to St Louis. There, in his hometown in 1952, Chuck Berry began playing with the popular Sir John's Trio, led by pianist Johnnie Johnson. Three years later in '55 he was just 19 and ready to move on. So he traveled up to Chicago to see Muddy Waters perform, and then try his luck at Chess on a tip from Muddy.
Although his overall sound was unique, it was nevertheless derived from Rock-A-Billy, R&B, and the Blues, and therefore could also be thought of as Blues-Rock. That is, as described in the preceding "rhythm" lesson theory notes, while the piano, bass, and drums were played with a traditional blues shuffle feel, the rhythm and lead guitar parts were based on a straight feel, as in Country, Bluegrass, and Rock-A-Billy music. And of course, Chuck's classic lyrics traced a line from the country to the city. And so, with a bit of a stretch we've arrived at the dawn of Blues-Rock and/or Rock & Roll in Chicago.