Songs Along The Way: Wandering The Blues Highway
(Or “Why I Paint Musicians”)
People write books about where it all started. It started in the South, the Port of New Orleans where Africans from a multitude of traditions were sold into slavery. It started in Congo Square, where once a week those slaves might be allowed to freely dance and play the music of their homelands. It started in the Mississippi Delta, where rural slaves and later sharecroppers held on to their souls with call and response field hollers and heartbreaking songs of struggle. It all started in Africa with rhythms and tones contrasting those of European sensibilities.
Blues and Jazz.
The Blues Highway runs from Louisiana to Minnesota, more or less following the Mississippi River. It’s also a physical reminder of the birth and growth of Jazz & Blues in this country. As people migrated up route 61, they brought their music with them. And along the way each region added its own flavor to the mix. Developments in amplification and recording offered wider audiences and new ways of making sound. The sounds and styles grew as the music swelled northward and east and west to meet Folk, Country and other influences. The result: an abundance of truly American musical traditions- New Orleans Jazz, Mississippi Delta Blues, Kansas City Swing, Memphis Rhythm and Blues, Chicago Electric Blues and every other Jazz, Blues, Bluegrass, Folk, Rock, R&B, Pop, and Country Blues in between.
A little time along the route, provides a rich musical experience.- an earthy feast of expressive, spirited and sometimes a little bit gritty stuff. I like to find the places where song is a natural part of life. And then I like to paint those places and the people who live there. I paint them as a journal of the adventure. And I paint them as a nod of respect to the musicians I meet along the way. Maybe I paint them because I share a sense that music is a fundamental form of human expression, that song (like life) comes from the mud and the water, and that we can’t (or at least shouldn’t) live without it. I do know that when I am painting these images, I am reliving the sounds and sights and perhaps a piece of the history behind the music. And for me, that is a nice thing.
These days the Blues Highway might begin in NOLA and the Delta, but it ends wherever local musicians play with a spirit of authenticity and sincerity. It takes us to our backyards where folks play and sing and dance for the sheer joy of it. It wanders into our own nooks and crannies, our personal parades through the challenges and joys of life. It ends with an understanding that life can be one big celebration and that it’s best to just keep dancing, from the first step to the last.
Life really is good.
Linda Langhorst Bolzenius