The shuffle of the drums. A riff on the bass. Then a haunting trill from the piano, and the guitar begins to wail. You’re in a trance-like rhythm. You’re in the groove. That feeling…it’s the blues.
“If I was a rich man, had all the money I needed, and suddenly all that money left, my feeling would be what they call the blues.” That’s how the late St. Louis musical legend Henry “Mule” Townsend defined the blues. He was quick to caution, though, that, “To me, it’s not necessarily the saddest thing in the world. It tells a lot of stories about natural life – how people live.”
And that’s the point. It’s all about the story. The lyrics in blues deal with tragedy and adversity. It’s about telling your story. It’s about being honest and saying what you feel. Even the music itself tells a story. It starts slow, not revealing the ending right away, and builds into a powerful release of emotion. It transforms heartache and sorrow into a visceral and cathartic experience. The blues conveys, in a way other music can’t, a stark emotion that is raw and genuine.
Musical Legacy of the Blues in St. Louis St. Louis has a deep history and culture of blues music that continues today. In 1914, W.C. Handy was inspired to write the most popular blues song in history, “St. Louis Blues,” while sitting on the riverfront in St. Louis.
The Mississippi River made for an easy migration of blues musicians, who integrated into the already popular ragtime genre that was prevalent in the area. The “King of Ragtime,” Scott Joplin, performed at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and at the Rosebud Café. Today, the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark, takes you back to the early 1900’s, when Joplin lived in the home and composed the songs that would catapult him into national fame. Lit by gaslight, and filled with Joplin’s music resonating from an authentic player piano, you can imagine the creativity, talent and hard work that took place in those rooms.
Over the years St. Louis produced many popular blues musicians. In addition to Henry Townsend, there’s Lonnie Johnson, Albert King, Little Milton, Robert Nighthawk, Big George Brock, Floyd Smith, Eva Taylor, Chuck Berry, and countless others who have taken to the St. Louis stage.
The National Blues Museum in St. Louis
Later this year, St. Louis will celebrate and explore the rich, storied history of the blues with the opening of The National Blues Museum downtown at the corner of Sixth Street and Washington Avenue. Its mission statement declares, “The National Blues Museum explores and preserves the historic significance of the Blues as the foundation of American Music, celebrates the genre’s various styles, and recognizes the musicians who created, sustain, and advance the art form.”
The 23,000 square foot museum will include galleries, interactive exhibits, educational programming, performance areas and private event space. The initial exhibits will feature a history of the blues that highlights different cities’ influences, blues legends and their contributions, and the creation of blues lyrics and chord structure, allowing visitors to create their own songs. For more information about the National Blues Museum, visit www.NationalBluesMuseum.org.
And The Music Plays On
With dozens of clubs showcasing everything from local talent to national acts, St. Louis has a thriving blues scene today. The city’s rich contribution to blues history, and now the addition of a museum that will pay tribute to the foundation of American music, gives blues fans in St. Louis much reason to smile. The Blues never felt so good in St. Louis.
Find the Blues Today in St. Louis
The history and culture of blues music is alive and well in St. Louis today. Experience the blues from tiny juke joints to area festivals to concert venues all year round.
This Soulard favorite delivers the best in St. Louis blues music seven nights a week, and the long standing Saturday matinee featuring Soul Reunion is a weekly tradition.
BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups
Touted as “part music club, part music museum,” local and traveling musicians draw you into the deep St. Louis history of the blues every single night of the week.
Big Muddy Blues Festival on Laclede’s Landing
There’s no shortage of talented blues acts every Labor Day weekend on Laclede’s Landing. Local, regional, and national blues players entertain generations of fans down by the Mississippi River that brought so many amazing musicians to our city.
Since 1972, this St. Louis landmark on The Loop has been delivering live music and delicious dining to blues and pop culture fans alike.
Broadway Oyster Bar
This third point on the “Broadway Blues Triangle,” (along with BB’s and Beale on Broadway) serves up a dynamic mix of local and touring blues talent alongside amazing New Orleans style cuisine.
Great food, amazing patio and jumping jam sessions every night of the week, plus Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Die hard loyalty to the music keeps the blues alive at Hammerstone’s.