Sears Roebuck & Company...

Midwife to the Blues 

That instrument was the fretted steel-string guitar and Sears, Roebuck & Company made it available in virtually every corner of the United States.

Founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in Chicago, Illinois in 1886, the future retail giant began as a mail-order enterprise catering to a small-town rural market with limited access to physical retail outlets. It's famous catalogue was first published in 1888. Guitars retailing for $4.50 appeared in the 1894 edition. By 1908, mass production had lowered the cost to $1.89 (about $45 today). Significantly, the anonymity of the catalogue format ensured that black and white customers were treated equally thereby undermining white supremacy in the racially charged South.

Those instruments were a quantum leap over the planks, nails and bailing wire that gave many a budding blues man his start and, at that price, guitars sold across the South. Sharecroppers bought them to earn extra cash on weekends. Innovators like Robert Johnson demonstrated the instrument's full potential, simultaneously playing a walking bass line under chord changes and lead lines to create the effect of a small combo on a single instrument.

Acoustic guitars, cigar box guitars, National Steel guitars, Dobros and electric guitars, with a keen eye always looking for technological advances, new commercial opportunities and that competitive advantage, blues musicians embraced them one and all. Swept up in the mass exodus of African Americans from the rural south to urban centres like Memphis, Chicago and Detroit, the guitar moved north defining the sound of the blues wherever it settled. Jazz, country, folk and rock guitarists reaped its benevolent influences transforming the culture of America and the world.

To this day, the guitar retains its title as the dominant instrument of the blues and there is no audience more appreciative of a performer's prowess on the instrument than a blues audience.

Every year, thousands of guitars are bought and sold, many in music shops but with the ever growing popularity of e-commerce, increasingly on line. Sears Roebuck & Company mail-order catalogue 2.1?

Sears opened its first store in 1925 and had the highest revenue of any retailer in the United States until 1989 when it was surpassed by Walmart. It's general merchandise catalogue was discontinued in 1993. Kmart Holdings Corporation acquired Sears in 2004 but plummeting sales forced its parent company to file for bankruptcy in 2018.

How do you turn off the everyday stress? Turn on the live music at the Thunder Bay Blues Festival. Bringing our community together with song under summer skies for 18 years.

Ken Wright