Friday, May 4, 2012

Cheap Guitars and Upward Mobility

Trust me, this one has nothing (or very little anyway) to do with politics.

I love the blues and like most people I thought its origins had a lot to do with the experience of black people in America.  (I also thought it had a lot to do with the legacy of Scots-Irish people in America, but that's another story.)  Anyway, that experience, that black experience, which included not only slavery, but Jim Crow segregation as well, I was led to believe, would make almost anyone sing the blues...and even invent it in order to sing.

But I was wrong.

Turns out the blues also owes much of its origins, like so many other things authentically American, to Sears, Roebuck, & Co.  In an interesting piece about not only the origins of the blues, but also about what people can and will do in order to get ahead in a free country (that's the small political part), Chris Kjorness makes the case that cheap guitars, widely available through the Sears catalogue, steadily supplanted the homemade banjo with its more limited musical range, and thereby played a huge role in the development of a style of music I can't ever seem to get enough of.

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