The "Blues" Make You Happy
It's the place where W.C. Handy composed what's possibly the most famous of all blues songs: "St. Louis Blues." Handy published his composition in 1914. It's been recorded hundreds of times over. And yet, many blues experts will also tell you that Kansas City is the place in Missouri to find the best blues today. Those experts might have some advice for you. Make a b-line to this place, BB's lawnside barbecue, where the food is great, and the music is even better. On this Friday night, there was a performance from one of Kansas City's hottest blues bands, Trampled Under Foot, otherwise known as TUF. TUF is a trio, two brothers and their sister. Nick Schnebelen says blues is in TUF's blood.
"The blues picked us really, more than we picked the blues," Schnebelen said.
The siblings are Kansas City born and bred. They grew up around places like BB's.
"When we were very young our parents would let us play blues and really had a great time doing it," Schnebelen said.
One thing interesting at BB's is a mural on the wall above the stage, depicting many of the great blues artists, all of them black. Most of the blues fans at BB's are white. Blues music didn't start out as a crossover genre. With its roots at the turn of the last century, it was largely considered "race music," music recorded for and marketed to blacks. This was the heyday of stars like Ma Rainey, Louis Jordan, Bessie Smith, and Kansas City's own Big Joe Turner. Today, the legacy of these greats has a guardian of sorts. His name is Chuck Haddix, director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
"What is compelling about the blues is that it tells a story," Haddix said.
Haddix co-wrote a book on Kansas City music and hosts a weekly blues radio show.
"You have the great blues shouters coming through Kansas City and St. Louis," Haddix said. "They'd playing St. Louis then Kansas City. So you had this blues explosion happening in the early 1920s."
He says the blues came to Missouri with artists who toured the country.
"It's just like the record industry today only a cruder version of it," Haddix said. "You have the artists coming through and the records are available, people buying the records."
The Marr Sound Archives even has one of the most famous of those records: an original version of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Haddix says the blues are still the blues, even in 2007.
"You don't stray too far in the blues... you still have your songs about drinking and your woman done you wrong and all that stuff and people respect that tradition," Haddix said.
So what is it that keeps the blues alive and well in the 21st century?
"It's just people baring their souls," Schnebelen said.
And Chuck Haddix's theory?
"Somehow when you listen to the blues, it makes you feel better... It makes you happy," Haddix said.