Blues for Schools

Musician Joe Bonamasa tells Tony Cox about the Blues Foundation's Blues in Schools project, which introduces the music to younger audiences.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Blues artist Joe Bonamassa has been making music most of his life. He started playing the guitar when he was just four years old. By the time he was twelve, he was opening for blues great B.B. King. Now, Bonamassa is an internationally recognized blues musician in his own right. The guitarist has a new CD called You and Me. He told NPR's Tony Cox about a project to introduce a new generation of kids to the blues.

Mr. JOE BONAMASSA (Founder, Blue's Foundation Blues in Schools Project): You know, the Blues in the Schools thing I started about three years ago for the National Blues Foundation in Memphis. And they approached me because I was one of the young guys out there playing blues. And they said, would you be interested in going into schools and talking about blues? And I said, oh, yeah, that doesn't, you know, I figured it would be mid-afternoon kind of thing.

And, well, they started about 7:30 in the morning. And, as you know, musicians who travel the world, their favorite thing to do wake up at 6:30 in the morning after playing shows the night before. So I was like, well, this is going to be fun.

So I did the first one, I believe it was in Arkansas somewhere. And it was just an auditorium full of, you know, sixth, seventh and eighth graders. And I watched their faces light up. And I started to realize to myself. I go, this is the first time they've actually heard this music in their entire life.

And I was like, you know, I go in there and I say, listen, I think you should know guys like Robert Johnson and B.B. King and Muddy Waters. And, you know, I get more kids that come up to me and say, thanks. You know, it's like this is really cool. And then I seem them at sometimes at blues festivals or even at my shows and saying like I discovered B.B. King and it changed my life. And I was like, well, yeah, it's totally worth it.

TONY COX reporting:

Now is there a basic blues beat. I know you've got your guitar there with you. Is there a basic blues beat that you play for them to sort of introduce them to the blues?

Mr. BONAMASSA: Well, you know, I kind of tie in the traditional stuff with Robert Johnson and all the very traditional kind of folk blues I call it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BONAMASSA: We kind of start there, and then we kind of move up to the more modern stuff. And, you know, you can play the same riff on the electric guitar, and all of the sudden, it's you know, sounds like Led Zeppelin.

COX: What about the - but now the lyrics. Now, give us a taste of the music and maybe a simple lyric that can introduce a youngster to the blues.

Mr. BONAMASSA: Well, I do, you know, I do a song called You Upset Me, Baby, and - which was a B.B. King song and I kind of slur the first verse cause it's she's 36 in the bust, 40, you know. And, you know, it just depends on how old they are.

COX: Well, play a little bit for us of what we're talking about.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BONAMASSA (Singing): Well, she's 36 in bust, 180 in the waist, 44 in the hips, she's got what it takes. You upset me, baby, yes you upset me, baby. Like getting hit by a falling tree, woman, what you do to me. Well, she's not too tall, complexion is fair. Man, she knocks me out the way she wears her hair. You upset me, baby, yes, you upset me, baby. Like getting hit by a falling tree, woman, what you do to me. Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BONAMASSA: (Singing) Well, it's hard to describe her, hard to start. I better stop (unintelligible) cause I got a weak heart. You upset me, baby, yes, you upset me, baby. Like getting hit by a falling tree, woman, what you do to me. Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: You know, while you were playing that, Joe, I'm trying to imagine fifth and sixth graders, you know, shaking their heads, talking about, yeah, Joe, yeah, Joe.

Mr. BONAMASSA: Yeah. You know, I tell them, it's like you'll understand that song in 10 years.

COX: Oh, that's great. It sounds wonderful and it's a great thing that you're doing. Very nice to talk to you, man. Good luck with all the music.

Mr. BONAMASSA: Thank you very much.

COX: See you later. All right.

GORDON: That was blues man Joe Bonamassa with NPR's Tony Cox. Joe works with the Blues Foundation's Blues in Schools Project, which introduces the music to younger audiences. His latest CD is titled You and Me.

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