When I first became interested in the blues, it was partially because the music seemed accesible. Three chords and minimal riffage are sufficient to be a part of it at a basic level. I learned it could be more about how you play then about what you play. Personality, rather than chops, could be sufficient to make an impact. But one thing that eluded me briefly was the fact that folk blues players still played on real, industrially made instruments. I had had a vision of them using a sort of home made instrument, until I looked closely at the guitar and realized that that’s ridiculous. With six steel strings, tight and precise tuning pegs, proportionally perfect fretboards, a guitar is not something that a musically inclined person makes on a whim.
Chris Kjorness at Reason wrote a story about how mass production and distribution made guitars accessible across the country, allowing musicians to use this standardized tool to create an infinite variety of compositions and styles:
The tragic image of the blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta ignores the competitive and entrepreneurial spirit of the bluesman himself. While it is certainly true that the music was forged in part by the legacy of slavery and the insults of Jim Crow, the iconic image of the lone bluesman traveling the road with a guitar strapped to his back is also a story about innovators seizing on expanded opportunities brought about by the commercial and technological advances of the early 1900s. There was no Delta blues before there were cheap, readily available steel-string guitars. And those guitars, which transformed American culture, were brought to the boondocks by Sears, Roebuck & Co.
The blues is more complex that you may think. As they say, simple to learn, impossible to master. I’m not the guide you need to learn about the intricacies, but rest assured, it’s more than just three chords behind someone improvising on a five note scale. Rock blues jams take that format simply because it’s an easy common denominator.