Texan blues master Nat Dove graced the campus of UCSB on Wednesday, August 19, with a lecture on the origins of blues music in the United States. He came at the request of Black Studies Department professor Clyde Woods. The lecture lasted for roughly an hour, which Dove spent showing film, photos, and other images from the early days of blues music, and demonstrating the musical differences between his craft and the music of the time. Dove was also greeted in Woods’ classroom by some prominent members of the Santa Barbara Blues Society, which has deep roots in the community and much recognition abroad. “I think the Santa Barbara Blues Society is the oldest blues society in the world,” Dove said. The Texan blues master explained that he has had a relationship with the society for 35 years, and that they have allowed for the blues to have a significant presence in the community.
Dove spoke on the emergence of the blues in America. “Blues started off as an expression, rather than a music,” Dove said. “The blues started from looking at the situation that these people were in, and addressing the irony of it.” Dove described the situation at the turn of the century, when African Americans had been emancipated from slavery, but were still fully constrained by the society in which they lived. According to Dove, there were areas in the South where the population was 80 percent African American, yet none of them were able to vote. “The best way to deal with it was to internalize it and manifest it,” Dove said.
Dove went on to describe the musical aspects of the blues, and how it developed such a unique sound by embracing a West African descending musical scale, rather than relying on the ascending sound of the European scale that was used in other types of music. Dove brought along a melodica, which resembles some type of cross between a keyboard and a flute, to play the music that he was describing and give an example of how different blues music was from the traditional tunes of the time. “Many people think it’s the notes that give this music its character,” Dove said. “It isn’t; it’s the rhythm.”
The bluesman also spoke about his relationships with some of the greatest blues musicians of the 20th century, such as the late Beauford Delaney, and how they paved the way for musicians to follow. “Many of the blues people were travelers, travelers without portfolio, if you will. Just jumping trains,” Dove said. “These guys were basically geniuses.” Although the time where travelers could get away with jumping trains has come to an end, the blues legacy is still alive and well in bluesmen like Nat Dove, and he plans to continue playing music and teaching students about its cultural significance for the foreseeable future.