"Cue the Blues" Barbecue and Blues

April 22, 2015

 

In the South when you think of food and music you may well think of barbecue and blues (and alcohol).

The connection between barbecue and blues is a long one. In an article called "Cue It Up" on theGeorgia Music website, Tony Bryant, a blues musician himself and son of blues woman Cora Mae Byant and grandson of Georgia blues legend Curley Weaver, explained to writer Steve Labate: “There was nothing else to do… Black people were only allowed to do certain things, go certain places, so they created their own juke joints. They couldn’t go to the ballgame or picture show or downtown, so they started having barbecues and fish frys.”

 

Of course, barbecue takes a long time to cook and you don’t make it in small quantities so you would have a large crowd of people waiting on food and they needed entertaining so the next thing you know people would be making music. Some musicians playing these barbecues and fish fries started to get a following and people would ask to hear them play. In the same article, Labate referenced an interview with Cora Mae Bryant in which she recalled dancing at age 16 while her father, Curley Weaver, played . Other performers who went on to actually make records but who started out playing barbecues were Washboard Slim, Barbecue Bob, and Blind Willie McTell.

 

It was a natural progression for barbecue gatherings to evolve into barbecue joints and they began to spring up all over the South. It was a simple proposition. All you needed was a pit and a cook, or “pit boss.” You could build a shack and set up some tables and chairs and create a tiny slab dance floor and you had a juke joint! Cheap whiskey, beer and moonshine augmented the flavor of the food and the sound of the music. These joints let hardworking people let off steam for a little bit of money and let the joint owners and musicians eke out a living.

 

In Georgia in the earliest part of the 20th century, and especially around Atlanta, the railroads brought people together. Talent scouts came through with primitive recording equipment and found these musicians playing at barbecue joints and put them on records. Often, the recording was done in hotel rooms rather than studios and the musicians were paid a small, one-time fee. But it is because of these primitive recordings that we know of the early work of Blind Willie McTell and the others who created Georgia blues, which borrowed from the traditions of the Carolina Piedmont, Texas and Florida blue, New Orleans jazz, and country and folk as well.

 

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