The end of mainstream blues?

The White Stripes broke up yesterday.

You’re forgiven if that doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, considering that Jack White’s name hasn’t been used in conjunction with ex-wife Meg in at least a couple of years.  Between producing records and playing in about 37 other bands, collaborating with Alicia Keys and appearing in guitar documentaries (watch It Might Get Loud, it’s superb), Jack White has been everything but The White Stripes.  And for the most part, that was ok.  The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather are both fantastic blues-infused bands, but with the exception of “Level” by the Raconteurs, these bands haven’t exactly reached the heights that The White Stripes conquered in the early 2000s.  White Blood Cells and Elephant were mammoth albums that brought garage rock and blues to the masses.  Not since the early days of the Stones has blues music been at the forefront of rock.

It’s comforting to think about the recent commercial successes of The Black Keys, possibly The White Family’s closest musical brethren.  Can they carry the blues flag?  One could argue that without The White Stripes, we wouldn’t be hearing Black Keys songs on the radio or television commercials.  They were, and still are, pioneers and architects of the dirty, low-fi garage blues duos that play direct homage to classic Chicago blues, and they will be missed.

For sure, their departure leaves a huge, regrettable hole in the blues’ modern identity that will be tough to fill.

For posterity, here they are covering Son House’s “Death Letter.”  It’s my favorite modern re-interpretation of a blues song.

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