Delta Blues

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Delta blues are named after the Mississippi Delta in Mississippi, not to be confused with the Mississippi River Delta in Louisiana.


The Delta blues is one of the earliest styles of Blues music. It originated in the Mississippi Delta, a region of the United States that stretches from Memphis, Tennessee in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippi in the south, Helena, Arkansas in the west to the Yazoo River on the east.

The Mississippi Delta area is famous both for its fertile soil and its poverty.

Guitar and harmonica are the dominant instruments used, with slide guitar (usually on the steel guitar) being a hallmark of the style. The vocal styles range from introspective and soulful to passionate and fiery. Delta blues is also regarded as a regional variation of Country Blues.


Although Delta blues existed in some form or another since the turn of the 1900s, it was first recorded in the late 1920s, when record companies realised the potential African American. The ‘major’ labels produced the earliest recordings and consisted mostly of one person singing and playing an instrument; however, the use of a band became more common during live performances.

Current belief is that Freddie Spruell is the first Delta blues artist that was recorded, as he waxed "Milk Cow Blues" in Chicago in June 1926.

Record company talent scouts made some of these early recordings on 'field trips' to the South; however, the labels invited some Delta blues performers to travel to northern cities to record. According to Dixon & Godrich in 1981, Tommy Johnson and Ishman Bracey were recorded by Victor on that company's second field trip to Memphis, in 1928. Robert Wilkins was first recorded by Victor in Memphis in 1928, and Big Joe Williams and Garfield Akers also in Memphis (1929) by Brunswick/Vocalion.

Son House first recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin (1930) for Paramount. Charley Patton also recorded for Paramount in Grafton, in June 1929 and again, at the same location in May 1930. In January and February 1934, Patton visited New York City for further recording sessions. Robert Johnson traveled to San Antonio (1936) and Dallas (1937) for his ARC, and only, sessions.

Subsequently, the early Delta blues (as well as other genres) were extensively recorded by John Lomax and his son Alan Lomax, who crisscrossed the Southern US recording music played and sung by ordinary people helping establish the canon of genres we know today as American Folk music. Their recordings number in the thousands, and now reside in the Smithsonian Institution.

According to Dixon & Godrich (1981) and Leadbitter and Slaven (1968), Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress researchers did not record any Delta bluesmen or women prior to 1941, when he recorded Son House and Willie Brown near Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, and Muddy Waters at Stovall, Mississippi. However, this claim is disputed as John and Alan Lomax did record Bukka White in 1939, Lead Belly in 1933 and most likely others.

(Famously covered by Nirvana)

A Few Artists

To do this list justice, would take a whole website all of its own, but here's a few, just as an introduction to this incredible style of music.

Robert Johnson

Muddy Waters

Howlin' Wolf

Mississippi John Hurt

John Lee Hooker

Charlie Patton

Lead Belly

Tommy Johnson

Big Joe Williams

Blind Willie McTell

Bukka White