Lots of people are mistaken about the essence of the blues. They think that the blues is all about depression just because a lot of blues seem to them to begin "Woke up this morning feeling bad". That was true back in the twenties and thirties but only to a limited extent. A more careful listen to Blues lyrics will reveal that blues is about life. If you want depression,
follow this link and make sure that you have the phone number for the Samaritans ready at hand. That said, there are certain things that remain constant. The blues is about situations that most ordinary blues lovers can relate to. There are very few blues about being a rich merchant banker whose position has closed two thousand points down on the day but there are any number of blues about less elevated forms of gambling with your own money. This guide has been compiled in an attempt to heighten your understanding of what is and what isn’t a blues subject, starting with transportation and passing through the most important lifestyle concerns en route.
Lots of people are mistaken about the essence of the blues. They think that the blues is all about depression just because a lot of blues seem to them to begin "Woke up this morning feeling bad". That was true back in the twenties and thirties but only to a limited extent. A more careful listen to Blues lyrics will reveal that blues is about life. If you want depression, follow this link and make sure that you have the phone number for the Samaritans ready at hand.
That said, there are certain things that remain constant. The blues is about situations that most ordinary blues lovers can relate to. There are very few blues about being a rich merchant banker whose position has closed two thousand points down on the day but there are any number of blues about less elevated forms of gambling with your own money.
This guide has been compiled in an attempt to heighten your understanding of what is and what isn’t a blues subject, starting with transportation and passing through the most important lifestyle concerns en route.
In the ‘60s the more successful and well-known Blues singers like Little Walter offered their women a brand new Cadillac (together with a diamond ring of course) Sport Utility Vehicles and Pick up trucks are the special province of white Texan blues singers but are generally regardedas being redneck modes of transport and therefore more oriented towards Country and Western.
Non-blues cars include any Volvo, Saab, BMW or people carrier.
Mules. Mules are not used for transportation. Their sole rôle in blues is to be kicking in someones’ stall as in "another mule kickin’ in your stall". This is not a good thing to have happen.
Trains. Trains are less popular nowadays, mainly because they are always Southbound or "mean old" or "low down" like that "mean old Frisco and that low down Santa Fe" (which done taken my baby away.)
Another factor affecting the popularity of train travel is the sheer size of the tickets which you have to buy – they are always "long as my right arm". Far better to wear out 99 pairs of shoes than to travel by train. Electrification has also had an effect on the use of trains by blues singers who used to "grab the first one smokin’. Now they ain’t no trains smokin’ no more.
Greyhound Buses are definitely the thing to put your woman on if she be’s giving you trouble, fussin’ and fighting or raisin’ sand.
Albert King, who knew a thing or two, used to put his baby on the Delta Jet when he went to Detroit, MI to work on the "Cadillac Assembly Line". ("As long as she kept her blue jeans zipped up tight." – this was probably because she was a Big Leg woman – see below)
Sonny Boy Williamson #1 in "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" intended to buy him an airplane and "fly all over your town".
(If ever there was a song that no-one will sing these days following the disgrace of Gary Glitter, this is it. Jonny Lang did it on his platinum CD Lie to Me but he was only a schoolboy of 15 when he did it so he escaped being lynched even though the maturity of his voice made him sound like he was forty.)
Fixin’ to die is a common blues state of mind which may or may not be accompanied by instructions to "see that my grave is kept clean". (An inspiration in this area is the tomb of Jim Morrison of the Doors who has a 24 hour guard on his grave in the Pierre Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to prevent littering)
In general, teenagers are assumed not to be able to sing the blues because they ain’t fixin’ to die. So Jonny Lang must have been fixin to do something else when he recorded "Lie to Me".
Decatur Street, New Orleans
Beale Street, Memphis
12th Street and Vine – Kansas City – they’ve got some crazy little women there, allegedly.
New Orleans, behind the setting sun.
Georgia is frequently on Blues singers’ minds but it is not clear whether this is the State or a brownskin woman.
"Down in the Bottom" is quite a popular blues location.
Up the bottom is not for discussion here.
In the jailhouse is a good blues location, specially if you’re accused of murder in the first degree.
Almost anywhere in Britain but specially, Kensington, Golders Green, Finchley, Cheam, Sutton, Solihull, Altringham, Glyndebourne, Frinton on Sea, Ascot, Bournemouth and Bath. Deep depression is all too common in these places but this does not qualify as the authentic blues experience.
Before the onset of Political Correctness, many infirmities added considerable blues credibility to singers’ names - particularly blindness as in Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell and Blind Boy Fuller.
There are no dyslexics in Blues folklore – that’s because the great blues singers couldn’t read sufficiently well to even make it to the foothills of dyslexia. This is a fact of life, not a slur – Muddy Waters was a truly great artist but couldn’t read.
Political correctness has now killed off infirmities or physical handicaps as handles for blues names. Blind Lemon Jefferson would be Visually Impaired Jefferson nowadays. Peg Leg Howell may just about get away with "Prosthetic Pete" but don’t hold your breath.
As far as the given name is concerned, Willie is a top choice for a man but the Willie is generally described. Consequently we have had Big Willies and Little Willies. We have had Blind Willies as in Blind Willie McTell, but there are no one-eyed Willies (this is much too commonplace for a Willie.) It goes without saying that Willies should avoid the use of "Limp" as an infirmity.
If your name is Alistair, Rupert, Ambrose, Tristram or Kevin, try punk or new age music - the blues doesn’t want you. (I was going to add "Robin" to this list until I remembered Mr Ford - and then I remembered that he actually spells it "Robben" )
Women are not discriminated against in this way - there are no names that can’t be used, with the possible exception of Gertrude or Ermintrude but then being given names like that may provide a subject for a blues along the lines of Johnny Cash’s "Boy named Sue" (Some gal would giggle and I'd get red And some guy'd
laugh and I'd bust his head, I tell ya, life ain't easy for a boy named 'Sue.')
Some have been known to be big and fat and "built like that" and in many cases they are built up from the ground. The larger varieties were big fat mammas with the meat shaking on their bones and every time they moved "some skinny gal done lost her home."
Many of them could bring eyesight to the blind but they obviously never met Lemon Jefferson, Blake, Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry or Gary Davies.
Memphis Minnie boasted of having Ford engine movements in her hips with a ten thousand miles guarantee – this could have been an exaggeration but one thing was certain: what it took to bring you back she had it all the time.
Big Leg women are also popular specially if they have the necessary strength and fitness to carry their men to the grave. Albert King was a particular fan of Big Leg women in this regard but, in his case she would have needed to have been a UBLW (Ultra-Big-Legged Woman owing to the fact that he was 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. In fact, the shortage of suitable UBLWs at the time of his death meant that his coffin was carried down Beale Street in a hearse accompanied by the Memphis Horns playing "When The Saints Go Marching In".Albert King was born under a bad sign but the song fails to tell us what it was.
Alcohol is the top-rated blues death closely followed by women.
Poison saw Robert Johnson off and a mugger's icepick finished to Sonny Boy Williamson #1.
Blind Blake, about whom little is known, is believed to have fallen over in a blizzard and, having been too fat to get up, simply perished where he lay.
Little Walter was killed on St Valentines Day 1968 by being hit round the head with a hammer during a fight over a pavement crap game. It is an interesting insight into his lifestyle that this was such an everyday occurrence that he simply went home to bed complaining of a headache and took a couple of painkillers. He did not wake up.
Fish fry, specially on a Saturday night.
Townswomens coffee mornings, Gallery openings
Or, to quote the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band:
"Can blue men sing the whites, or are they hypocrites for going "wah, wah, wah"")
Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Charlie Musselwhite, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd: clearly if the final syllable of your first name ends in an "ee" sound you’re in with a chance. Of course, if you can play the guitar like Eric Clapton, that’s pretty good too.
The Back Door – an essential ingredient of the Blues?
Up until the early fifties, the back door played a significant rôle in blues lyrics. When the husband came in through the front door, the lover slipped out of the back. Little Walter in "Tell Me Mama" asks " When I came in, who went out that back door?". It was probably Howlin’ Wolf who in "Backdoor Man" boasts that he is a backdoor man – "the men don’t know but the little girls understand." And he "eats more chicken than any other man seen". In the case of Blind Boy Fuller, it was women who used to knock at his backdoor because he was a Rattlesnakin’ Daddy who could "Rattle to the Left"and "Rattle to the Right" as well as being able to "Rattle all Night".
Whisky and wine
Gasoline (if you asked for water)
Michicaine water (tastes like sweet cherry wine) Some people think it's sherry wine but somehow the idea of a fine amontillado doesn't sound like the blues to me.
Mississippi Water (tastes like turpentine)
Crème de Menthe Frappé
Rum and peppermint
Port and Lemon
Seven Up - Snow White liked Seven Up - it ain't a blues drink!!
More on Blues lyrics from that well-known centre of blues appreciation, Taiwan: