Sometimes I hate being a child of the 90s because I missed so many prolific genres and artists in their heyday. I will never be able to hear Janis Joplin or Jimmi Hendrix perform live. The closest comparison my generation has to Woodstock is Coachella, which these days seems more like a fashion show than a music festival.
From a musical perspective what impresses me most about the music of the 60s & 70s is the vocals’ raw emotions. It’s like you can feel every ounce of pain in each note. As a vocalist myself, I tend to gravitate towards strong, powerful vocals. This preference, coupled with my love of the 70s, made several people suggest for me to look into blues rock.
Blues and rock music share many common threads. The blues, in its height, was regarded to as “the devil’s music”. In fact, I would argue that the blues was the original rock and roll. Like rock and roll, blues musicians sung about sex, drugs, and alcohol. However, where blues differs is that these topics were approached in a more melancholy and desperate way, as opposed to the unabashed hedonism of rock music.
The Devil’s Music reputation isn’t completely unwarranted, however. Blues singers often spoke about the devil fairly regularly. Robert Johnson’s Me and the Devil Blues tells the story of the devil collecting the singer’s soul.
“And I said ‘hello Satan’/ I believe it’s time to go/ Me and the Devil was walkin’ side by side/And I’m going to beat my woman until I get satisfied”
Whether Robert Johnson actually sold his soul to the devil or if the devil was just a metaphor for the price of fame and success can be left to personal speculation. However, the parallels ring clear. Eventually, the blues began to die out, but later birthed rock and roll.
The first modern day blues rock band I stumbled upon was the very aptly named Blues Pills. If done wrong, psychedelic/blues rock bands can appear as a caricature of the genre. When done correctly, they can transport you back to a time when gas was $.30 a gallon and the LSD was strong. Blues Pills have successfully blended a retro sound with a modern touch, making it clear that they draw influence from the 70s’ without sounding dated and satirical.
Elin Larsson is a bright shining star; she’s a force to be reckoned with. Who would have thought that such a gritty, powerful, soulful voice would come out of a tall, model-esque Swedish woman? It is apparent that she does her homework and draws influences from some of the greats, like Aretha Franklin, Marsha Hunt, Big Mama Thornton, and Etta James.
One of their stand out tracks for me is Devil Man. Larsson starts out wailing a capella in almost a recitative, warning us about a supremely evil man. The band later joins in and matches her power tenfold and the track unfurls into powerhouse track.
Blues Pills currently tours mainly in Europe, but let me tell you; I cannot wait to see the day where the tour in America. There’s a lot of blues rock bands out there, but the problem is that, with blues, you have to mean it. Whether you’re singing about depression, or drinking yourself to death, or selling your soul to the devil, you need to sing it like you fucking mean it. I believe every word Larsson sings and that level of authenticity is unteachable. It comes from actively listening to the greats that came before. Balancing that inspiration, while maintaining your own artistry is no easy feat, but she treads those waters flawlessly.
Blues Pills, if you ever come to the DC area, I hope that you will see me front row and center.
Listen to Devil Man on: