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Friday ó April 23, 2004


This Noteís for You

Swimming upstream
to music

By Keith Waller

What kind of music do you listen to, or play? In the beginning of my musical quest, back in my tweens, I could respond quickly to that question by naming a few key artists or genres of music. Ah, but I was so much older then, Iím younger than that now and find the question a little more difficult to qualify.

The problem comes in trying to distinguish between all those pesky genres, the seemingly separate and distinctly different categories that we favor according to our personal tastes. These terms come in handy when trying to figure out where to find a disk in the music stores, but suggests that different styles of music exist in a vacuum, without apparent connection.

Iím finding the more I listen to and play music, the more Iím led back to the same point in time, to a confluence of musical styles. Call this the four main ingredients of popular music. For me, that confluence is located in the southern United States around the period of the 1920s when early urban jazz met country blues, gospel music of the rural South and European folk music traditions. We all know who the baby was that came from this union and what it was named: Rock Ďní roll.

However, I donít think you can look at that moment in time as begetting just one thing. Like an explosion that gives birth to a lot of things at once, itís the birthplace of everything we know as popular music.

Just downstream of this confluence, the river divides into a maze of channels. All the main genresórock, blues, jazz and soulóstart dividing into numerous sub-genres. The river just keeps branching out, with channels going off in all directions and coming back together again, but itís still the same river. My 13-year-old son will disagree that the heavy metal music he is listening too has anything to do with my Blind Willie McTell records, but the dots do connect. Travel back upstream far enough and you arrive at the same source.

In the American melting pot of music, the separate ingredients that went into the stew have become so thoroughly blended that it can be difficult to single out the individual flavors. And thatís the great thing about our musical heritage, what went into the stew doesnít really matter; we just know that it tastes good.

Keith Waller, an engineer, is an avid music fan and guitarist.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.