These are music genre descriptions for the website RateYourMusic that I (entirely or largely) wrote, as of now at least (May 2019).
The order is alphabetical by main genre, then alphabetical by subgenre. This means you will find „Chicago Blues“ under „Blues: Chicago Blues“, and „Hill Country Blues“ under „Blues: Hill Country Blues“, et cetera.
You can see the sources I used for writing these by clicking on the link of the genre name.
The list right now goes:
Blues: Chicago Blues
Blues: Electric Blues
Blues: Hill Country Blues
Blues: Piano Blues
Blues: Soul Blues
Rock: Roots Rock
Emerging in the 1940s, Chicago blues became the prototypical and most influential form of Electric Blues on contemporary Blues music, Blues Rock and Rock in general. It is sometimes called electric Chicago blues to differentiate it from Acoustic Chicago Blues. Chicago blues is based on rural Delta Blues, transferring its songs and structures into a small band setup, amplifying the guitar, harp (harmonica) and bass, as well as adding drums and sometimes saxophones and horn sections.
As opposed to other electric blues forms like early Electric Texas Blues, Chicago blues kept the rough and gritty edges of its ancestry through use of highly expressive vocals, slide guitar, great volume and (later on) distortion. It isn’t restricted to but commonly uses a boogie-ing twelve-bar blues structure, making it the blueprint for Rock & Roll, blues rock and the entire British Blues movement and rock bands.
After black workers had migrated from the Mississippi area to the north, several blues scenes sprung up in different cities, such as Detroit or Chicago. Although they are sometimes differentiated by sound, Chicago blues is the most influential and widespread style of the area. The „official“ breakthrough of electric Chicago blues is Muddy Waters‚ smash hit single I Can’t Be Satisfied: Waters started out as a traditional acoustic delta blues singer like many of his peers, and then played a heavily amplified version of his acoustic country blues. The genre brought forward many of the most famous blues guitarists such as Elmore James, Howlin‘ Wolf and Buddy Guy.
Although Chicago blues can (and did) accommodate vocalists and pianists, the electric guitar and the amplified harp have been its main leading instruments. Keeping in the tradition of the rural roots, the harp initially played a very important role – so much so that according to Billy Boy Arnold, Chess Records started to print „Muddy Waters and his guitar“ on his records to let the audience know that Waters wasn’t playing Little Walter’s harp. The harp’s importance declined somewhat in the modern consciousness as the guitar started dominating rock music but stays an important part of Chicago blues through artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Carey Bell among others.
The Blues went through a major development in sound and reach when it became possible to amplify the instruments of small combos – usually drums, bass, harmonica and most importantly the electric guitar. After World War II many artists, particularly in Chicago, moved to amplified Electric Blues, which was a major influence on Rock & Roll and later Blues Rock musicians and through them on Hard Rock and Heavy Metal music. Since then it has enjoyed a number of revivals, most recently in the 2000s, when it was picked up by bands of the Garage Rock Revival.
The electric amplification had impacts on several levels: When blues had become more and more popular throughout the 1920 and 1940s, the piano (and brass sections) had tended to dominate local club scenes – simply because it was louder than other leading instruments (such as the acoustic guitar). When amplification became possible in the late 1930s, it gave more room to the guitar, the bass and also the harmonica, enabling small blues combos to play noisier venues. As opposed to the jazzy, horn-driven sound of Jump-Blues, this development established blues – and especially the guitar – as the main root for the numerous rock genres mentioned above.
Electric blues had become a viable economical force by the late 1940s, with hit singles among urban audiences. A key record was T-Bone Walker’s Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad). As one of the earliest and most influential artists of electric blues, Walker played a highly sophisticated guitar with articulated solos. As opposed to the Delta Blues-based Chicago blues, this brand of Electric Texas Blues (sometimes called „west coast blues“) draws its distinct sound from jump-blues, crooning and jazzy arrangements.
Another breakthrough was Muddy Waters’s smash hit single I Can’t Be Satisfied: Waters, who like many of his peers started out as a traditional acoustic delta blues singer, played a heavily amplified version of his acoustic country blues but largely left its sound intact. This spawned the probably most important and enduring branch of electric blues: Chicago Blues (sometimes called electric Chicago blues to differentiate it from Acoustic Chicago Blues), often seen as the prototype of the genre. Chess Records signed and published many of the most important electric blues performers through the 1950s and 1960s.
Although the amplified harp played an essential role especially in the early electric blues bands (with artists such as Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II or James Cotton), electric blues typically focusses around the sound of a guitar, anticipating the archetype of the „guitar hero“ in Rock music. Among the most famous electric blues guitarists are Elmore James, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton.
*note: I used a few appropriate lines from the description for „Blues“ that someone else had written on RateYourMusic
Hill country blues, named after the hilly region in North Mississippi, is a form of Blues
music emphasizing a steady, hypnotic groove, sparse, percussive and
highly energetic guitar riffs and often features meandering song
structures with unconventional and usually fewer chord changes as
compared to the related Delta Blues.
Although the relentless, driving rhythm of hill country blues has famous forerunners in Mississippi Fred McDowell and even in the more boogie-influenced John Lee Hooker, the greater Holly Springs area of Mississippi is considered to be the genre’s cradle. The former neighbours Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, as well as Robert Belfour, are among its main protagonists. Often serving as dance music for locals and being played acoustic as well as electric, hill country blues has an unrefined, rough edge to it and stayed a rural and largely un-recorded phenomenon for decades as it developed after the great migration movements of blues musicians to the larger cities.
Although there are some of R.L. Burnside’s tracks recorded by Alan Lomax in the 1970s, it was the label Fat Possum Records which ensured the genre’s preservation and greater popularity by publishing a row of albums starting in the early 1990s, with most of the artists well over sixty years old and already having performed for decades. Among these nowadays classic albums are Junior Kimbrough’s All Night Long (1992) and R.L. Burnside’s Too Bad Jim (1994). Compilations like Burnside’s Mississippi Hill Country Blues (with tracks from the 1960s to the 1980s) have helped to document the genre’s development and history. The genre proved to be able to cross-fertilize when Buddy Guy was invited to record an electric hill country blues album consisting almost entirely of songs written by Junior Kimbrough. The resulting Sweet Tea (2001) introduced Chicago Blues-style soloing to hill country blues which is commonly devoid of guitar solos altogether.
Possibly due to its gritty sound and because of its „discovery“ coinciding somewhat with the blues-oriented Garage Rock Revival of the late 1990s and early 2000s, hill country blues had a considerable impact on acts of the Alternative Rock and Garage Rock scene. While the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion recorded a whole album with R.L. Burnside, titled A Ass Pocket of Whiskey (1996), acts like the North Mississippi Allstars and the early Black Keys draw heavily from the genre, continuing its influence on blues music.
Piano Blues refers to Blues
played on the piano, either solo or with the piano as the lead
instrument of a small combo performing slow or mid-tempo blues ballads,
as opposed to the commonly fast-paced Boogie Woogie. Influenced by the piano-dominated Ragtime,
it is one of the earliest recorded blues genres, coming into being in
the 1920s. Piano blues performers often accompany themselves on vocals,
lending the genre some similarity to later Vocal Jazz singers performing blues ballads played on the piano.
On the one hand, piano blues laid the foundation for piano playing Rhythm & Blues performers such as Ray Charles or Nina Simone. On the other hand, creating a slow, comfortable and melancholic sound nowadays associated with late night bar rooms, piano blues performers – such as Roosevelt Sykes, Otis Spann or Champion Jack Dupree – had a notable influence on the performance style and sound of singer/songwriters like early Tom Waits and even Randy Newman.
Soul blues is a form of Blues that shares similarities with Soul and incorporates the eponymous soulful inflections of Gospel, Jump-Blues
and soul music into the vocals. It is usually based on soulful vocals
and/or an expressive electric guitar. Soul blues is sometimes backed by a
powerful, refined horn (or string) section common to soul while mostly
relying on slow and mid-tempo ballads. It has also been called „Memphis
blues“, hinting at its origins, but is not confined to artists from that
In the 1960s, soul blues can be said to be blues influenced by soul. But the genre’s historical origins predate soul, beginning in the early 1950s, when blues artists in turn helped shaping the sound of what would later become soul music. In the 1950s, vocalists such as Bobby „Blue“ Bland and Z.Z. Hill developed a mellifluous, melismatic singing style often using a falsetto quality that brought their gospel roots into blues, while fellow Memphis-dwellers and guitarists such as Albert King, B.B. King and Lowell Fulson emulated these vocal qualities with a hard-edged, but fluent electric guitar sound. Typically (but not always) backed by the horn sections that had become an integral part of jump-blues and Rhythm & Blues during the 1950s, this style had some of the success soul music enjoyed during the 1960s with performers like Etta James or Little Milton. Many blues artists looking for broader exposure started to record for soul labels like Motown Records and Stax Records during this period, furthering the cross-pollination of the two genres. Soul blues had a lasting influence on blues performers until today, as exemplified by the soul-influenced blues style of Robert Cray or Joe Louis Walker.
Folk music is a very broad term used for music rooted in the mostly oral
traditions of initially rather small social groups. The original
context of folk music often was to accompany other types of social
activities, like manual labour, religious rites or family gatherings.
The eponymous, notoriously difficult „folk“ or „people“ concept can
therefore relate to a number of different aspects: groups defined
through ethnicities, tribes, nations, large regions, occupations,
religions, families etc. may each serve as parameters for different folk
musics (such as Native American Music, Hill Tribe Music, Canadian Folk Music, Work Songs or East Asian Folk Music). It is used as a distinct category from the high art concept of Classical Music and comparatively modern forms of commercially distributed, written popular music (such as Pop or Rock).
The term nowadays can be divided into two different main categories: Traditional Folk Music and Contemporary Folk. Traditional folk music (as a subcategory of Regional Music) denotes many different types of music with usually specific regional roots and served as the original concept for folk music. Among its typical characteristics are unknown origins of songs (usually replaced with the concept of a collective composing effort through time), an evolutionary approach to songs, and a comparatively fixed repertory of similar tunes which varies in size. A once common criterion – folk music being „rural“ as opposed to „urban“ – is nowadays widely rejected. Arising in the mid-20th century, contemporary folk is meant to describe music that still has certain forms of European or American folk music as its major influence, yet bringing it from a traditional context into that of popular music.
Jazz-funk is a form of Jazz highly influenced by Funk. It incorporates funk’s comparatively basic and propelling rhythm and repetitive bass grooves into a jazz setting, replacing jazz’s classic swing rhythm with that of funk, favouring a steady groove over melody and chord progressions. Jazz-funk tracks sometimes make use of a horn section supplying riffs, are often lengthy and based on a one chord or two chord vamp of the rhythm guitar and prominent bass line as the starting point for the solo instrument, often a keyboard, saxophone or electric guitar.
Early jazz-funk of the late 1960s shared some similarities with Soul Jazz which started in the late 1950s and was also called ‚funky jazz‘ until the early 1960s. But while soul jazz (like Soul) was influenced by Rhythm & Blues and Gospel, jazz-funk takes its cues directly from funk. Jazz-funk (unlike soul jazz) quickly became associated with funk’s typically electric and electronic instrumentation: Most of the genre worked with electric funk guitar lines, electric bass, as well as electric keyboards and synthezisers from the 1960s onwards, influencing the later Synth Funk. Though there are important examples of relatively conventional jazz-funk such as Herbie Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda (1970), the genre therefore has large overlaps with Jazz Fusion influenced by Avant-Garde Jazz, such as on Miles Davis‚ record Bitches Brew (1970) or the more tightly groove-oriented On the Corner (1972), which based their fusion sound on avant-garde jazz as well as funk rhythms.
While these more experimental outings remained influential, jazz-funk’s mainstream breakthrough is largely attributed to Hancock’s hit album Head Hunters (1973) and the records following it, with commercially successful acts like Weather Report throughout the 1970s. This less avant-garde and almost danceable style of jazz-funk remained the template for the following decades, with contemporary bands like Medeski, Martin & Wood leaning towards the former, and artists like John Scofield leaning towards the latter approach. Starting in the 1980s, jazz-funk’s groove also impacted the Dance and Hip Hop-influenced Acid Jazz.
Roots rock is Rock music that consciously and predominantly incorporates elements of its musical predecessors and original (especially American) roots such as Country, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll and American Folk Music, but also may include other American traditions such as the latin-tinged Tex-Mex or Cajun. It is closely related to other roots-influenced genres such as Country Rock, Southern Rock and the blues-laden Swamp Rock. As an approach blending different traditionally American music idioms with rock music, roots rock also has large overlaps with genres like Alt-Country and Americana.
Although the term itself grew out of a back-to-basics approach to solid rock in the mid-1980s, it is currently used to encompass much earlier bands and movements with similar aims. The most prominent acts of the first phase in the late 1960s were the Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band, taking cues from Bob Dylan and even influencing British acts like the Rolling Stones on their late 1960s albums. Alongside southern rock and the less traditionalist Heartland Rock, roots rock continued to be influential in the 1970s with Link Wray, Little Feat and Ry Cooder as prominent acts. It faded from public interest somewhat in the late 1970s. The sound of the phase that established the term in the 1980s can be seen as a grittier, more conservative counterweight to the sonically more radical Heavy Metal or the more modernly electronic New Wave. Among the main artists were John Hiatt and Los Lobos. While in the current use Ry Cooder has come to epitomize the historically conscious, eclecticist nature of roots rock with his records of the early 1970s, the term also continues to be used for artists with similar preserving approaches to American music traditions and rock music – an ongoing endeavour that can, for instance, be observed in Bob Dylan’s, Levon Helm’s and some of Neil Young’s albums of the 2000s and 2010s.