A little over a century ago, in March 1912, Oklahoma-based Hart A Wand’s Dallas Blues became the very first copyrighted blues sheet music ever published.
Within weeks, the Kansas-born fiddler and bandleader’s catchy 12-bar tune was being hummed the length and breadth of the Mississippi River – and its influence on all the blues music that followed has earned its place in the annals of history.
The moniker itself is derived from ‘the blue devils’, meaning an overwhelming state of melancholy – an early example of which is found in English dramatist George Coleman’s 1798 one-act farce of the same name. But long before Coleman’s play hit the stage, those devils had spawned an entire musical genre among the African-American communities of the Deep South.
Rooted in spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and narrative ballads, the blues’ exact origins are something of a mystery. Racial discrimination in academic circles and low literacy rates among rural African-American communities of the time conspired to keep documentation to a minimum, but blues music is believed to date back to when slaves were finally granted freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and was accelerated by the ensuing rise of the juke joint.
As Samuel Charters notes in his 1975 book “The Country Blues,” it’s thus more than a little ironic that the first published piece in what he calls the “Negro blues idiom” was, in fact, “by a white man” (Wand called his melody “Dallas Blues” after a black porter who worked for his family said the tune “gave him the blues to go back to Dallas”).
No less ironic is the fact that the man credited with introducing the blues to Australia, singer-songwriter and guitarist Phil Manning – due to perform at The FCC on June 29 and 30 – is also conspicuously pale of complexion. Pity the fool who points this out: “Forget the colour,” he says from his Melbourne home. “Everybody gets the blues sometimes.”
“Blues originally was thought of as a black American music, because it was, but it has since spread into all cultural areas. I heard the blues first in the normal way of the sixties: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds; then Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, which led to Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and then back further to Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, et al.”
Part of the original line-up of famed Australian blues band The Chain, which formed in 1968, Tasmania- born Manning has since had the privilege of touring with several of his influences. “I toured with Bo a few times, both supporting him and then backing him. A wonderful man and really respectful of me too, which was very nice. The best moment was at a gig in Melbourne when he took over the drums and just let me go for it. It was sensational. He was a great drummer, too.
“And I supported Muddy Waters for two complete tours – the greatest man I have ever met in the music industry. I could tell a lot of stories, but the best one to me is that he remembered my two daughters after 18 months, having only met them for five minutes or so.”
A veteran of life on the road, Manning has been praised by critics for his keen technical abilities, silky vocals and insightful songwriting. He’s an accomplished finger-picker and slide guitarist and echoes of country, bluegrass and folk reverberate through his songs. Expect the unexpected: rather than stick to a rigid set list, Manning prefers to let the crowd determine the direction each performance takes.