Birth of British Blues
British blues is a form of music derived from American blues that originated in the late 1950s, and reached its height of mainstream popularity in the 1960s, when it developed a distinctive and influential style dominated by electric guitar and made international stars of several proponents of the genre including The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and Alexis Korner, often called the father of British blues and John Mayall. Other artists in the British blues scene included The Yardbirds, The Kinks, Manfred Mann, The Animals, The Moody Blues and Spencer Davis Group and a band from Belfast, called Them.
American blues became known in Britain from the 1930s onwards through a number of routes, including records brought to Britain, particularly by African-American GIs stationed there in the Second World War and Cold War, merchant seamen visiting ports such as London, Liverpool, Newcastle and Belfast.
Blues music was relatively well known to British jazz musicians and fans, particularly in the works of figures like female singers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and the blues-influenced boogie-woogie of Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller. From 1955 major British record labels HMV and EMI, the latter, particularly through their subsidiary Decca Records, began to distribute American jazz and increasingly blues records to what was an emerging market.
Many encountered blues for the first time through the skiffle craze of the second half of the 1950s, particularly the songs of Lead Belly covered by acts like Lonnie Donegan. As skiffle began to decline in the late 1950s, and British rock and roll began to dominate the charts, a number of skiffle musicians moved towards playing purely blues music.
Among these were guitarist and blues harpist Cyril Davies, who ran the London Skiffle Club at the Roundhouse public house in London's Soho, and guitarist Alexis Korner, both of whom worked for jazz band leader Chris Barber, playing in the R&B segment he introduced to his show. The club served as a focal point for British skiffle acts and Barber was responsible for bringing over American folk and blues performers, who found they were much better known and paid in Europe than America. The first major artist was Big Bill Broonzy, who visited England in the mid-1950s, but who, rather than his electric Chicago blues, played a folk blues set to fit in with British expectations of American blues as a form of folk music. In 1957 Davies and Korner decided that their central interest was the blues and closed the skiffle club, reopening a month later as The London Blues and Barrelhouse Club. To this point British blues was acoustically played emulating Delta blues and Country blues styles and often part of the emerging second British folk revival. Critical in changing this was the visit of Muddy Waters in 1958, who initially shocked British audiences by playing amplified electric blues, but who was soon playing to ecstatic crowds and rave reviews. Davies and Korner, having already split with Barber, now plugged in and began to play high powered electric blues that became the model for the subgenre, forming the band Blues Incorporated
Blues Incorporated became something of a clearing house for British blues musicians in the later 1950s and early 1960s, with many joining, or sitting in on sessions. These included future Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Brian Jones; as well as Cream founders Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker; beside Graham Bond and Long John Baldry. Blues Incorporated were given a residency at the Marquee Club and it was from there that in 1962 they took the name of the first British Blues album, R&B from the Marquee for Decca. The culmination of this first movement of blues came with John Mayall, who moved to London in the early 1960s, eventually forming the Bluesbreakers, whose members at various times included, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor.