Nowadays, rhythm and blues, or R&B, represents what can be best described as fairly bland and insipid US pop music but this wasn’t always the case. There may be an element of thinking that everything was better in the old days but of course, this is not the case and it is certainly not something that a mod would readily agree with. However, when it comes to R&B, the music that came through in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a world apart from the music that bears the genre today and its role on mod culture is undeniable.
While the music of the ground-breaking blues artists of the 1950s would play a part in inspiring and influencing many of the great 1960s mod musicians, there were other musical genres at play too. The influence of jazz, folk and even skiffle music all played a part in developing the mod culture and music that drove it in the 1950s and 60s.
Jazz was at the heart of the development of mod culture
Given that the term mod is seen to derive from the modernist jazz scene and culture, there shouldn’t be too much of a surprise at jazz having an influence on the music of the movement. One of the key players in this genre was Chris Barber, a traditional jazz band leader. Amongst his many achievements was helping to set up the Marquee Club, a hugely important venue for the major British R&B bands. Barber was also a keen promoter and worked hard to get some of the biggest US performers to the UK including names like Josh White, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Memphis Slim.
The influence of skiffle music should never be underestimated, even taking into consideration how quaint and simple it looks in modern times. There was an explosion of interest in being in a band and making music, which really came to the fore when the youth of the 1950s realised how simple it was to form a band and make music. Estimations at the time indicated that in the UK in the late 1950s, there were up to 50,000 skiffle bands up and down the country. Like many of his peers, Roger Daltrey first started making music in a skiffle band and the genre dovetailed well with the burgeoning folk movement.
Blues and folk music went hand in hand
It should be remembered that the blues was commonly viewed as being folk music in the UK, even though both musical genres are considered as being completely different by modern listeners. Artists such as Leadbelly were initially classified as being folk artists in Britain, even though many of his songs would find their way into the set lists, singles and albums of British R&B acts like The Animals, Manfred Mann and even The Four Pennies.
All of these different musical genres were crossing over and inspiring the up and coming musicians with a new way to play. It is easy to see the influence of R&B on acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks and The Animals, with each being big components of the British R&B scene. How their musical path would take one direction, whilst other acts such as The Who, who would become the cornerstone of mod culture, would take another.
The initial peak of British mod culture, which came in the mid-1960s was certainly based upon rhythm and blues, although the influence of soul music was notable too. The most notable bands of this genre would include The Who, The Small Faces, The Creation, The Smoke, John’s Children and The Action.
If there was any doubt about the rhythm and blues nature of the music, The Who tried to ram the point home with their “maximum rhythm and blues” tagline but very quickly, the group started to diversify. By late 1966, The Who were no longer just making the music that made mod culture dance, it was referencing it and driving it forward in their music. All good musical movements need a starting point to kick off from and the influence of rhythm and blues on these groups was evident.
Of course, these bands and the music of the time would later go on to influence many other musical cultures and in turn, youth movements too. The diversification as well as the desire to look for new things would see what was known as mod culture and music dissipate into different genres and styles. This led to other exciting styles of music being created but the unifying mod culture was lost for many while others followed new styles.