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Mississippi to Europe

Mississippi to Europe

American blues music could never have achieved its widespread level of international esteem without the avid appreciation of European audiences, authors, promoters, collectors and musicians. European critics and historians initiated much of the significant scholarship on blues and its Mississippi roots. The music of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Robert Johnson and other Mississippi artists laid a foundation for the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and others who helped popularize blues around the world.

Blues arrived in Europe via traveling African American musical revues, cabaret acts, and military servicemen, and by recordings that were imported from America or licensed by European companies and reviewed in jazz publications. The Armed Forces Radio Service also included blues in its European broadcasts during and after World War II. Blues by Mississippi performers, including those who helped establish the post-war Chicago style, became especially influential in Europe. Big Bill Broonzy, an Arkansas-born bluesman who claimed Mississippi roots, first came to Europe in 1951, paving the way for Muddy Waters and others to follow, aided by the patronage of UK jazz musician Chris Barber. Broonzy also collaborated with Belgian author Yannick Bruynoghe on one of the first blues books.

Most of the Mississippi-born post-war blues artists, including Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, B.B. King, Albert King, Little Milton, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and John Lee Hooker, toured and recorded in Europe in the 1960s and ’70s, returning with tales of warm welcomes and respect. Eddie Boyd was one of several bluesmen who took up residence on the continent. The American Folk Blues Festival tours, promoted by Germans Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau, played a primary role in spreading the blues across Europe. John Mayall, Alexis Korner, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, the Animals and many others championed blues in the UK, sometimes joining their American heroes onstage and in the studio. Their versions of the blues often brought the originators new acclaim from rock audiences back in America and around the world.

Many blues artists owe the longevity of their careers to European live venues and record labels. Artists from Mississippi and elsewhere played major festivals in Montreux, Berlin, Nice, Toulouse, Cognac, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Järvenpää, Notodden, Porretta, London, Dublin, Burnley, Edinburgh, Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam, Katowice, Prague and many other cities. Alongside the major companies, labels of note including Vogue, Storyville, Ace, JSP, Wolf, Document, Bear Family, L+R, Black & Blue, Sonet, Roots, Flyright, Blue Horizon, and Route 66, have reissued thousands of American blues recordings and produced new blues sessions both in Europe and America.

The first magazines devoted to blues, including Blues Unlimited, R&B Monthly, and Blues World in England, Rhythm & Blues Panorama in Belgium, Jefferson in Sweden, Blues News in Finland, and Soul Bag in France, appeared in the 1960s, and were later joined by Block in Holland, Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm in the UK, ABS Magazine in France, Il Blues in Italy, Blues Life in Austria and numerous others. A series of groundbreaking books by Paul Oliver from England established him as the preeminent blues author, and important works have also been penned by Mike Leadbitter, Tony Russell, Mike Rowe, John Broven, Derrick Stewart-Baxter, Guido van Rijn, Karl Gert zur Heide, Alex van der Tuuk, Jacques Demètre, Marcel Chauvard, Bruce Bastin, and others. Many discographers, archivists, radio broadcasters and television and film producers also contributed to Europe's essential role in the dissemination and documentation of the blues.

content © Mississippi Blues Commission

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