I'll never forget the first time I heard Lead Belly singing "C.C. Rider". I was entranced. Like most people of my generation, I grew listening to rock & roll. All of a sudden, in an instant, I could hear where it had all come from. And I could feel that the spirit behind the music, behind that voice and that guitar, came from somewhere much, much farther back in time.
Many people I know had the same shock of recognition. Rock & roll seemed to just come to us, on the radio and in the record stores. It became our music, a very important way of defining ourselves and separating from our parents. But then we uncovered another, deeper level, the history behind rock and rhythm & blues, the music behind our music. All roads led to the source, which was the blues.
We all like to imagine that art can come from out of nowhere and shock us like nothing we've ever seen or read or heard before. The greater truth is that everything -every painting, every movie, every play, every song- comes out of something that precedes it. It's a chain of human responses. The beauty of art and the power of art is that it can never be standardized or mechanized. It has to be a human exchange, passed down hand to hand, or else it's not art. It's endlessly old and endlessly new at the same time, because there are always young artists hearing and seeing work that's come before them, getting inspired and making something of their own out of what they've absorbed.
When you listen to Skip James singing "Devil Got My Woman" or Son House singing "Death Letter Blues" or John Lee Hooker laying down one of his snaking guitar figures, when you really listen -and believe me, it's not hard, because this is music that grabs your full attention from the first note. you're hearing something very precious being passe down. A precious secret. It's there in all those echoes and borrowings, all those share phrasings and guitar figures, all those songs that have passed down from singer to singer, player to player, sometimes changing along the way and becoming whole new songs in the process.
If you already know the blues, then maybe these selections will give you a reason to go back to it. And if you've never heard the blues, and you're coming across it for the first time, I can promise you this: Your life is about to change for the better.
-By Martin Scorsese.