'The whole thing about blues is the formula of the music," says Robb Bower, founder of the Blues Bash festival. "Most blues songs are built around three chords -- the one, the four, and the five chords. Even though everybody interprets them and adds embellishments, it always comes back to those three chords." In an eight-note scale, the first chord is C major, the fourth is F major, and the fifth is G major. "Rock 'n' roll was born of those three chords, the Chuck Berrys and John Lennons and Bo Diddleys of the early rock 'n' roll picked up on those three chords, and then they just kind of boogie-woogied them." On Saturday, July 15, the eighth annual Blues Bash festival, titled Destination Blues, takes place at the Menghini Winery in Julian. The festival was originally cohosted by Blind Melons in Pacific Beach and Winstons in Ocean Beach. "We managed to pull it off with 19 bands in one day and had a double-decker English bus that took people back and forth [between the two clubs], but it was a logistical nightmare," Bower says.
After moving the show to Julian, Bower narrowed the festival's focus. From the nearly 200 CDs he receives each year he now selects only 6 bands to perform. "I have one big stack of CDs, and those are like, 'No way,' [the bands] are not serious enough with what they were trying to do, or they weren't crisp enough...their message was foggy. I have another stack, half the size of the first one, to listen to again. Then there's a pile that's three inches tall, and that's a 'holy you-know-what' stack, which means those bands are smoking, and they'll be in the show if we can get them."
Bower is adamant about choosing bands that fall strictly within the blues genre. One band, J.J. Slyde and the Blues Talkers, didn't make the cut because, although Bower liked their sound, the band crosses a line between blues and Motown. "[J.J. Slyde] plays Chicago and Texas style, but he also plays Motown, which is Detroit -- it goes away from the one, four, five structure and includes doo-wop." Bower explains that in the Motown style a song often switches keys for the chorus, sometimes transitioning to a relative minor or modulating up to another key.
Within the blues genre are subcategories of styles, designated by the regions in which they first developed. Delta, which originated along the Gulf Coast in the Mississippi Delta, is "unembellished acoustic," says Bower. "It's bone-bare feelings; you're either happy or sad. It's just one guy on a guitar, maybe honking away on a harmonica and telling you how he's feeling that day."
Chicago blues, Bower explains, "is when the blues hit the big town and started to get fancy." Chicago blues is closer to the big-band sound that often includes drums, piano, and horns. "Texas blues was born through guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan, who picked it up from guys like Muddy Waters and Lightnin' Hopkins. Texas is jump blues with an accent on the upbeat; it leans a little more toward the guitar-y, twangy rock 'n' roll part of the blues."
The Cajun blues, known as zydeco, is a French Louisiana sound mixed with Delta blues. "Zydeco is very upbeat. They'll throw in an accordion and maybe a washboard for percussion -- it's perky."
Some might confuse the blues with folk or jazz music, but Bower insists there is a vast difference. "Folk music is much more relaxed and quieter. Folk musicians like Bob Dylan or Simon and Garfunkel rarely have side people -- it's just one or two people singing and playing acoustic guitars, and they don't push it, they don't pound it."
Jazz is a free-form version of blues. "Anything goes in jazz," says Bower. "And the instruments are completely different -- they might use a stand-up acoustic bass, a tenor saxophone, and somebody might be pumping on a Hammond B3 organ."
Bower acknowledges that not everyone is well versed in the nuances of blues. "One year a few ladies came, two middle-aged white women, and sat down during the Texas blues part of the show. They said, 'This isn't bluegrass!' and wanted their money back, so we gave it back and off they went." Bower describes bluegrass as "that acoustic, banjo, mandolin, shit-kickin' music."
Bower's own band, Blackthorne Murray, will open for the other blues bands he has selected to perform: Fuzzy & the Bluesmen, Guitarboy, Aunt Kizzy'z Boyz, The .44's, and Michael John & the Bottom Line. Last year over 800 people attended the festival. -- Barbarella
Robb Bower Presents "Blues Bash 8: Destination Blues"
Saturday, July 15
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
1150 Julian Orchards Drive
Cost: $25 at the gate
Info: 619-282-5430 or