British Invasion: Repatriating American Blues
England experienced a rough time in the years after World War II. Cities like London were bombed during the war and rubble lined the streets. The economy was in shambles and there were few jobs. It was a depressing place to be in the 1950s.
During this period, American jazz, blues, and early rock and roll records made their way over to England. English teenagers loved early forms of American roots music. They listened intently to the records, formed bands, and tried to emulate the music. They studied American jazz and blues and idolized blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and gospel musicians like Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Young English musicians played a mix of blues, folk, and traditional jazz music -- and created a new music called Skiffle. Pioneers of the Skiffle sound included Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner. Skiffle music was played quite energetically by many English teenagers including future rock stars like John Lennon.
There were several teenage bands playing a version of American blues in clubs all over England, but the first group to break through was a band called The Beatles led by the songwriting duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
When The Beatles came to America for the first time, their arrival had been hyped for many months and they were greeted by hundreds of screaming fans at the airport. When they made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, many more Americans were introduced to The Beatles and their popularity grew.
After The Beatles' success in America, the floodgates were open and many other English bands came to America including The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, The Hollies, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and many more.
Several of the English rock bands in the 1960s were more than willing to give credit where credit was due and made many Americans aware for the first time of great American blues artists who had all but been forgotten. The Rolling Stones named their band after a line in a Muddy Waters song and appeared on stage with him to pay their respects to their idol.
The British Invasion of the 1960s sparked awareness of important American blues artists as the English musicians repatriated American blues.