Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Delta vs Piedmont

Several folks have asked the difference between the Delta and the Piedmont style of country blues. Both are generally performed by a solo artist and usually guitar driven. Both are named for the region of the southeast United States where the individual sound took shape. The Delta blues takes it name from the plains of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, and the Piedmont blues developed along the Piedmont Plateau of the southeast coastal states. The Piedmont Plain separates the Appalachian Mountains from the Atlantic Coastal Plain and runs through Virginia, North and South Carolina and into Georgia.

Without getting into a technical discussion of polyrhythmic syncopation and music theory, let's see if there is a simpler explanation of the differences between the two styles. Neither one is older than the other, as both developed around the turn of the century. Perhaps the biggest influence that created the two distinct styles is the population of the regions in which they developed.

The population of central Mississippi around 1910 was nearly all black farmers and sharecroppers. With very little social interaction with the sparse white population, the music that would become the Delta Blues was heavily based on the polyrhythmic syncopation (oops, said I wouldn't go there) of western Africa, field hollers, and early African-American gospel. The Delta style is derived almost entirley from African influences.

On the other hand, the population along the Piedmont was a mixture of races and backgrounds. In the cities along the Piedmont; Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, and Washington, D.C., blacks, whites, and recent immigrants lived and worked side by side. The interaction in the mills and factories, as well as the traveling medicine shows and Vaudeville troupes, exposed black musicians to the jigs and reels of Scottish and Irish descendants and the polka, schottische, and mazurka from east European descendants. As a result the Piedmont Blues took on a more melodic sound. Influences went both directions. If not for the African influence on string band and hillbilly music we'd have no bluegrass, country, or rock music today.

This blending of music from around the world to create the music North America is something I have written about in this space many times. Nowhere else on this little planet is made up of such a diverse group of people from all corners of the world. The United States and Canada truly are a melting pot of people, traditions and music. There literally is a whole world of music right here in our hemisphere, and the blending of those traditions and musics have given the whole world a host of wonderful music in return.

Jinx Blues - Corey Harris & Paul Kemnitz.mp3
in the Delta style

Blues Baby - Turner & Lynn Foddrell.mp3
in the Piedmont style

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good choices Ed

Joey

May 04, 2006 6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The population of central Mississippi around 1910 was nearly all black farmers and sharecroppers. With very little social interaction with the sparse white population, the music that would become the Delta Blues was heavily based on the polyrhythmic syncopation (oops, said I wouldn't go there) of western Africa, field hollers, and early African-American gospel. The Delta style is derived almost entirley from African influences."

The first sentence is true; the second, kinda true. I think the 3rd is false largely because the slaves who were originally used to populate the delta region were primarily drawn from slave populations in the peidmont area.

There was a huge population shift of African-Americans in the 1st half of the 19th century as the agricultural systems of the atlantic coast failed (for a variety of reasons). Slavery was abolished in 1865 but the importation of slaves into the US was banned in 1808.

Very few African-Americans by the 20th century had direct roots to Africa. To say that "[t]he Delta style is derived almost entirley from African influences" is a difficult statement to support. While there certainly is African influence, I believe that the phrase "almost entirely" takes away from the real and important innovations and contributions of the delta musicians themselves.

Great blog, BTW.

May 07, 2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Well stranger, you make a very valid point. Perhaps I should have chosen my words more carefully.

The point I was trying to make was that the musicians of the Piedmont were exposed to a wider variety of influences; musical, economic and cultural. I certainly did not intend to discredit the musicians of the Delta, nor their inovations.

I have only a few paragraphs each day to rattle off something semi-interesting. I do have a real life and job, leaving me only an hour or so each evening - that includes time required for a few drinks while searching for inspiration.

I am never sure of the level of interest of those who visit this humble space. You seem to have an above average knowledge and interest and I truely welcome your input. Your's is exactly the interchange of ideas and knowledge I was looking for when I started this blog.

Welcome to the Bus. Please introduce yourself sometime. Sit a spell and have a drink. I look forward to hearing from you again.

May 10, 2006 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Introduce myself:

I've been dropping by and reading for a while now. I always learn something when I do stop by and for that, thanks.

Name's Bill. No blogger, just a reader. Love American music, particularly the blues. Been listening and playing (badly) for more than 50 years. Just an old guy who likes to listen and to talk about music who sometimes can't keep his mouth shut when he should.

I'll keep dropping by if you don't mind and share a virtual drink or two...

May 10, 2006 7:03 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Welcome aboard Bill. Let's see... older, plays, and likes to listen and talk about music. You are right at home with most of the riders here on the Bus.

You have a good knowledge of music and history - two loves of mine. Your comments are always welcome here.

May 10, 2006 7:22 PM  

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