The Blues Timeline

The History of the Blues

Back to Blues History

We hope you like our latest addition to the History section: a Blues Timeline! Scroll down to view important events and dates in Blues history.

NOTE! We also have a beautiful flash version of the timeline as well.
You can find the Flash Blues Timeline here.

1895 - Dockery Plantation Established

Dockery Plantation in Cleveland, Mississippi
Over the years, Dockery would be a breeding ground for Blues cultivation. Poor sharecorppers lived in groups of housing, and some of the men would play guitar as entertainment for their families and peers. Charley Patton, one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, played on Dockery, strongly influencing the likes of many blues greats such as Robert Johnson, Son House, and Howlin' Wolf, to name a few.

1903 - First Documentation of the Blues

W.C. Handy, a musical scholar, was awakened on a train station platform in Tutwiler, MS by what he described as "a lean, loose jointed negro... playing the weirdest music I'd ever heard". He went on to talk about how the man played his guitar with a pocketknife, and he sang that he was going "where the southern cross the dog". His description is widely regarded as the very first documentation of Blues.

August 1920 - Mamie Smith records "Crazy Blues"

Mamie Smith's Crazy Blues
Mamie's recording of Crazy Blues was a milestone for a number of reasons. Not only was it one of the first Blues songs ever recorded, it was also the first ever recording of an African-American singing. It's largest impact though, was it's incredibly high sales, which surprised record companies. It was this song and Mamie Smith's subsequent popularity that opened doors for future recordings as record companies began seeking new Blues talents. (image included)

1922 - "Race Records" Introduced

An Old OKeh Race Records Catalog
Because of the massive popularity of classic female Blues artists, recording companies realized a new market: African-Americans. To appeal to this audience, "Race records", first created by OKeh Records, were introduced. This gave many Black musicians, including the revered Delta Blues musicians, opportunities to have their music recorded and listened to, as well as make money that would have been much more than they could accumulate sharecropping or performing other remedial tasks. Though artists were almost always only paid a one time fee, and next to none were given royalties, a practice which continued for years. Still, $20 per record in a time when most were earning a dollar or less per week was monumental.

1923 - Bessie Smith records "Down Hearted Blues"

In February, 1923 Bessie Smith recorded "Down Hearted Blues", her first recording. She quickly became a nationwide sensation and one of the most popular Classic Blues artists. Dubbed "The Empress of the Blues", Bessie had a very fruitful career as an entertainer. In fact, she was one of the highest paid African-Americans of her day! Bessie's larger-than-life career and popularity opened many doors for future black recording artsts, particularly Blues artists. Bessie's life was unfortunately cut short in 1937 when she died in a car accident on Highway 61, the Blues Highway, outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi. (need to send an image along of bessie smith.... )

1925 - Blind Lemon Jefferson begins his recording career in Chicago.

Blind from birth, Jefferson had exquisite guitar skill, and became one of the most popular musicians of the era. His style defined what would come to be known as the Texas Blues. Many of his songs have become Blues staples, such as "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" and "Matchbox Blues", and his playing and style influenced Blues musicians across the country. Tragically, in 1929 Jefferson died under mysterious circumstances in a snowstorm in Chicago.

1928 - Mississippi John Hurt records for OKeh Records

Mississippi John Hurt recorded 13 songs for OKeh Records

"Mississippi" John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt had to travel over 1000 miles from the Mississippi Delta to New York City to make his first recordings for OKeh Records. In that day, the trip would have been exceptionally more difficult than today's standards. After his 1928 recordings, he would disappear into obscurity for nearly thirty years before his rediscovery in the folk revival of the 1960s. Upon his rediscovery, John would enjoy a fruitful career as a folk hero songster.

1929 - Charley Patton records for Paramount

Charley Patton was one of the most inspiring Bluesmen in existance, having directly influenced Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, and John Lee Hooker. His style and musical influence would impact both Blues and Rock artists for many years to come though. He was playing behind his back and between his legs long before Jimi Hendrix. In 1929 he recorded 14 sides for Paramount Records, "Pony Blues" being his most popular hit. (ignore this -> The creation of Gibson)

1931 - First Electric Guitar

Though various inventors and enthusiasts were experimenting with electric guitar designs, one of the first electric guitars most similar to modern counterparts was made by Rickenbacker and nicknamed "the frying pan" because of it's resemblance to one. The body of the guitar was perfectly circular and made out of metal.

November 1936 - Robert Johnson's First Recording Session

Robert Johnson only recorded 29 songs

One of the only known
pictures of Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson sought out H.C. Speir, a record store owner famous for arranging various recording sessions with many early Blues greats, including Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson. Speir set Robert up at his first recording session at the Gunter Hotel outside of San Antonio, Texas. There, he recorded several takes of sixteen songs.

June 1937 - Robert Johnson's Second Recording Session

Robert Johnson had his second recording session in Dallas, Texas. Here he recorded a confirmed eleven more songs, though there is a suggestion that he recorded several more that were never heard or seen.

September, 1937 - Bessie Smith dies in a car accident outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi

August 1938 - Robert Johnson dies

Robert Johnson is reputedly buried at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Greenwood,MS

A Robert Johnson grave at
Mount Zion Missionary Baptist
Church at Greenwood, MS

One of the greatest Blues legends of all time, Robert Johnson, died outide of Greenwood, Mississippi under mysterious circumstances. Allegedly, he was poisoned by a jealous husband, though the world may very well never know how he died. Additionally, Johnson's exact grave site is unknown and currently no less than three places lay claim to being his eternal resting place, with several others rumored.

1939 Les Paul creates "The Log"

Inventor, Blues man, guitar extrordinaire Les Paul invents "The Log". The Log was the first solid-body guitar. It was built with a 4x4 piece of fencepost, with pickups made from pieces of a telephone and an Epiphone body cut in half and glued to either side!

Les Paul's 'The Log' was a 4x4 piece of fencepost

Les Paul's 'The Log',
from a 4x4 piece of fencepost

1941 - Alan Lomax Records Muddy Waters

Legendary folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax, in search of the (unbeknownst to him) already deceased Robert Johnson, records Muddy Waters outside of his cabin at Stovall's Plantation. This is a symbolic turning point for Muddy Waters, who described the moment as "meeting himself for the very first time". The encounter led Muddy to realize his abilities, and eventually led him to Chicago.

November 1941 - King Biscuit Time Founded

Sonny Boy Williamson (II) and Robert Lockwood, Junior were the innagural disc jockeys for the King Biscuit Radio Time, out of Helena Arkansas. It was named after a nearby flour company, and was the only station around that played music by African-Americans, primarily Blacks. King Biscuit Time had a profound impact on many soon-to-be greats in the area, including B.B King.

1943 - Muddy Waters Moves to Chicago

Muddy Waters and Henry Sims in 1943
In 1943, Muddy Waters boarded a greyhound bus from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago, Illinois to try to make it making music. This was symbolically known as the day the electric Chicago Blues sound was born, even though Muddy wouldn't own an electric for another three years. He began playing in Chicago for family, friends, and on street corners. The rest is history.

June 1949 - Billboard changes the term "Race Records" to "Rhythm and Blues"

1950 - Chess Records is Founded

Chess Records Logo
Brothers Leonard and Phil Chess bought into partial ownership of a record label called Aristocrat. Soon afterwards they bought out their partners and renamed it Chess. Chess would very quickly come to be known as the quintessential Blues label, picking up such Blues superstars as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, and Chuck Berry, among many others. The Chess Records sound would define Blues.

Bluescentric's Chess Records History

March, 1952 - Sun Records is Founded

Sun Studio is located <br>in Memphis Tennessee

Sun Studio, Memphis Tennessee

Sam Phillips began Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Sun would be most famous for finding Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, but Sam also 'found' Howlin' Wolf, and recorded a number of other Blues greats in it's diverse legacy. The company and it's original building is still in Memphis, on Union Street and can be toured almost every day.

Bluescentric's Sun Studio History

Sun Studio Website

1952 - Gibson Guitar Company releases the first "Les Paul" guitar

Named after Bluesman Les Paul's original design. Les Paul guitars would become one of the most quintessential blues instruments in existence, being used by a hugely diverse group of Blues guitarists such as Duane Allman, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, and most famously, B.B. King, who names all of his guitars Lucille. It's been extensively used by some of the most popular rock guitarists in existence, including Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin, Eric Clapton, Angus Young of AC/DC, and Keith Richards of Rolling Stones.

Gibson Guitar Company

July 4th, 1952 - Elvis Begins His Career With A Blues Song

Elvis was at his first recording session at Sun Studio, which was proceeding unfruitfully until he played an Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup song. It was an instant success and he quickly skyrocketed to fame and fortune by playing a unique brand of "rockabilly", a combination of Blues and Hillbilly Country with a twist.

Bluescentric's Sun Studio History

Sun Studio Website

Elvis Presley's Website

November, 1956 - Tommy Johnson Dies at 60 Years Old

September, 1957 - Buddy Guy Hits Chicago

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

The living legend Buddy Guy steps off of a train in Chicago with the shirt on his back, not a dime in his pocket, and his guitar. He quickly became well known for his ability to play, his amazing stage antics, and his innovative style and sound, which would be copied for years to come, including by Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. He played as a session guitarist for legendary Blues label Chess Records for a time, and began an amazing career that is still smoking white hot to this day, with his most recent release: Skin Deep. He has 92557 engraved on the back of every one of his guitars to commemorate the day he arrived in Chicago.

1959 - Newport Folk Festival Created

The 1960's folk revival was coming to fruiction and would revitalize and widely popularize the musical careers of many many Blues artists that had either faded into obscurity, been presumed dead, or whose careers had been fading. The Newpork Folk Festival became a popular spot for Bluesmen to play, including Howlin' Wolf, The Allman Brothers, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Son House, and Sonny Boy Williamson (II), among many others.

1962 - Rolling Stones Formed As A Blues Band

The Rolling Stones, 1978
What would become the Rolling Stones formed as a Blues band, their influences being Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, among other blues greats, many from Chess Records. While setting up a gig, a club owner asked their name. Member Brian Jones noticed a Muddy Waters album and picked his song "Rollin' Stone" as the name of the group. The rest was rock history.

1963 - Mississippi John Hurt Rediscovered

In the midst of the 1960's folk revival, Blues and folk enthusiasts tracked down many artists who recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. John Hurt was among the most famous. he was presumed dead, but rediscovered to be playing in the same hometown he lived in when he first recorded thirty years prior.

1966 - Eric Clapton forms Cream

Clapton was already a very well known Blues guitarist, having played with John Mayall's Blues Breakers and The Yardbirds. Clapton, along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker formed the Blues-centered supergroup Cream. The band played lively versions of old Blues songs such as "Four Until Late" and perhaps most famously "Crossroads."

1970 - B. B. King Releases "The Thrill Is Gone"

B.B. King
B.B. didn't think people would like the song, written by Roy Hawkins, and so he didn't record it for a number of years. When he finally did record it in 1970, it reached #3 on the Rhythm & Blues charts and #15 on the Pop charts. It made 153 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, won B.B. King a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, and continues to be one of the most memorable and recognizable Blues tracks of all time.

1980 - The Blues Hall of Fame Founded

The Blues Foundation created the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. It's innagural members are some of the greatest in Blues history: Robert Johnson, John Lee hooker, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson (II) and (I), and the great Muddy Waters.

The Blues Foundation Website

(need to send along blues hall of fame image)

1983 - Stevie Ray Vaughan Debuts Texas Flood

Stevie Ray Vaughan released 'Texas Flood' in 1983

Texas Flood

Stevie had worked with little exposure outside of his native Texas until the release of this album instantly skyrocketed him to fame and an incredibly fruitful, yet ultimately tragic career. The Grammy-nominated album reached #38 on the Pop Charts, and "Pride and Joy" reached #20 on the Billboard charts. It's often been credited with a huge resurgence of Blues love and continutes to be one of the most popular Blues albums of all time.

August 27th, 1990 - Stevie Ray Vaughan Dies

Stevie played an electrifying show and an amazing final performance of "Sweet Home Chicago" with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and his brother Jimmie Vaughan at Alpine Valley Theater in Wisconsin. Afterwards, Stevie took off in a helicopter for his next town. He would never make it. In dense fog, the helicopter pilot veered into a hillside almost immedietly after takeoff, wrecking the chopper and killing everyone on board. Stevie was only 35.

2008 - "One Kind Favor" by B.B. King and "Skin Deep" by Buddy Guy Released

Two of the most popular Bluesmen of all time, Buddy Guy and B.B. King both release new original albums. Both were nominated in the "Best Traditional Blues Album" category. The 83 year old Mr. King won the award. Both albums were recieved with incredibly enthusiastic critical reviews, and have, to date, sold very well.
B.B. King's One Kind Favor

One Kind Favor by B.B. King

Buddy Guy's Skin Deep

Skin Deep by Buddy Guy