February 7, 2018
Blues developed in the United States in the early part of the 19th century but as the music evolved it has often come to be associated with drugs and alcoholism. There is a misguided belief that you can’t be a successful blues singer unless you pound back numerous bottles of whiskey. That really isn’t the case, there are plenty of singers blues and other genres with don’t drink. Singing the blues is about channeling your emotion and not your alcoholism.
What makes a good blues singer? That is something that is hard to define. Sit down and listen to some of your favorite blues singers and try and define what makes them unique. What is it that makes BB King such a good singer, or Nina Simone for that matter? Neither of them have great technical voices or amazing range, but they both have that indefinable thing that makes fans keep playing their music for decades. Some call it ‘Soul’ but no matter what you choose to call it you can’t deny that their music makes you feel. Just listen to BB King sing “The Thrill is Gone” to understand.
Simple is Better
Blues music originated in the Deep South and came from those expressing their suffering in slavery. It was heartbreaking and they sang about what made them feel sad. The idea was that singing about the things in life that made you feel sad will make you feel better. The lyrics were simple but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t creativity or energy borne from that music. The allow art to manifest organically. Repetition is often characteristic of blues lyrics. Much of blues music is about singing about pain and heartache and most blues singer, the really good ones allow their own personal pain to shine through their music.
Singing with Feeling
Singing the blues is about “feelings” but the magic happens when you can do that without being a cliché. “Singing with feeling” or “feeling the music” is pretty vague and often the terms are overused. That can come off as pretty inauthentic and that is NOT what the blues is about. You need to tap into your own emotions and show genuine feeling. Listen to the music as often and as long as you like until you can define how it makes you feel. Don’t worry too much about how songs make other people feel, just worry about YOU.
At the end of the day you need to be willing to lay your soul bare and commit to singing with your own unique voice. That is the magical place where the blues comes to life.