Maxwell Street (Chicago) and the Blues

It's not often that a street is influential in the development of a style of music, but Maxwell Street is certainly one instance of that phenomenon.  In the 30s and 40s itinerant musicians from the Delta came North seeking work. In most cases they initially found jobs in the trades and supplemented their income by busking on street corners.  They quickly discovered that, unlike the country settings and small towns of the South where they had played, the hustle and bustle of a big city made it difficult to attract attention with acoustic instruments.  Over time they sought out the new technology of amplifiers and electric guitars, developing a new genre of blues, urban/electrified blues.  Maxwell Street with it's stores and markets was a natural place to attract a crowd, and the merchants often encouraged the musicians as they saw that the music brought them more business.  Just as important, many merchants ran extension cords from their stores out to the street giving the musicians a power supply for their amps. From Big Bill Broonzy to Muddy Waters to Little Walter and many others, Maxwell Street provided a venue to make some money and develop their music, creating what came to be known as Chicago blues. In the 1980s film, "The Blues Brothers," Maxwell Street is featured in a scene showing John Lee Hooker and Big Walter Horton playing Hooker's "Boom, Boom" on the street to a huge crowd. While the scene was set up for the movie, it undoubtedly portrayed something that happened quite frequently.

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