Even Spiders get the blues

April 15, 2022


The artistry and electricity of blues players such as B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and others led adjunct music professor Charles Arthur to offer a performance ensemble course this semester for student musicians who want to learn about the blues.

Arthur’s course, American Roots Ensemble, explores the blues as a form of music, while providing students insight into the lives and careers of important American artists, many of whom were from the South or gravitated toward the genre that originated on Southern plantations in the 19th century.

Musicologists generally attribute African spirituals and chants, work songs, drum music, hymns, and country dance music as the origin of the blues, which grew in popularity after spreading to other parts of America, particularly the Midwest, in the 1930s and 1940s.

Students in the blues course, with some help from UR faculty and staff musicians, also learn how to perform within an ensemble, listening to their own and each other's playing, and how to function as an inclusive electric band, with drums, bass, guitars, and keyboards.

Arthur, an electric and acoustic guitarist who has performed professionally for more than 25 years, considers blues as a perfect way for his students to become better musicians.

“It’s nothing fancy and complicated,” Arthur said. “The excitement comes from your own personal expressions and adding your personality to it. It can be rough, primitive and sophisticated all at once.”

An April 15 performance in Camp Concert Hall allowed blues fans an opportunity to hear the Spider students play together.

UR junior Daniel Saravia-Romero is one of five students enrolled in the course. A history major with a minor in archaeology, Saravia-Romero plans to continue playing the blues whenever possible while also learning more about artists such as Lightning Hopkins, Robert Johnson, and Jimi Hendrix.

Saravia-Romero said, “I enjoy the ease of the genre’s structure and the ability to be creative and improvise when playing with others. I just love that.”