Archive for Blues

How to sing the blues

How to Sing the Blues (attributed to Memphis Earlene Gray with help from Uncle Plunky)

1. Most blues begin “woke up this morning.”

2. “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line: “I got a good woman – with the meanest dog in town.”

3. Blues are simple. After you have the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes. Sort of.

“I got a good woman
with the meanest dog in town,
He’s got teeth like Margaret Thatcher
and weighs about 500 pounds.”

4. The blues are not about limitless choice.

5. Blues cars are Chevies and Cadillacs. Other acceptable blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Walkin’ plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin’ to die.

6. Teenagers can’t sing the blues. Adults sing the blues. Blues adulthood means old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. You can have the blues in New York City, but not in Brooklyn or Queens. Hard times in Vermont or North Dakota are just a depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the blues.

8. The following colors do not belong in the blues: a. violet b. beige c. mauve

9. You can’t have the blues in an office or a shopping mall, as the lighting is wrong.

10. Good places for the blues: a. the highway b. jailhouse c. empty bed
Bad places: a. ashrams b. gallery openings c. the Hamptons

11. No one will believe it’s the blues if you wear a suit, unless you happen to be an old black man.

12. Do you have the right to sing the blues?
Yes, if: a. your first name is a southern state – like Georgia
b. you’re blind
c. you shot a man in Memphis
d. you can’t be satisfied

No, if: a. you once were blind, but now can see.
b. you’re deaf
c. you have a trust fund

13. Neither Julio Iglesias nor Barbra Streisand can sing the blues.

14. If you ask for water, and baby gives you gasoline, it’s the blues. Other blues beverages are: a. screw-top wine b. Irish whiskey c. muddy water
Blues beverages are NOT: a. any mixed drink b. any wine kosher for Passover c. Yoo Hoo (all flavors)

15. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is a blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, or being denied treatment in an emergency room. It is NOT a blues death if you die during liposuction treatment.

16. Some blues names for women: a. Sadie b. Big Mama c. Bessie

17. Some blues names for men: a. Joe b. Willie c. Little Willie d. Lightning

Persons with names like Sierra or Sequoia will not be permitted to sing the blues, no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

18. Other Blues Names (starter kit – mix and match): a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Asthmatic) b. First name (see above), or name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi) c. Last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)

A present from Frank Feigert


Bob Dylan on Blind Willie McTell

In the early 1990s, thirty years into a successful songwriting and
performance career, Dylan released two CDs of his own arrangements and
recordings of traditional music. These recordings are, to my mind, another
version of Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home (1965), rendering valuable
sources of inspiration in musical technique, poetic frameworks and human
life narratives. In the liner notes to the album World Gone Wrong, the
collection of particular interest to us here, Dylan shares with us the ways in
which the lives and themes of his musical masters have touched him. In
performing the songs composed and/or handed down by the musicians he
honors, the artist passes down stories of human struggle and deep emotion as narrated by the song lyric.5

[5 I have been using the term “lyric” to mean the words to a song in unfixed form.
For the purposes of this paper, this definition will contrast with “text,” which will refer to the transcribable performed version of a lyric. Inasmuch as variations exist from
performance to performance, once transcribed, they can be studied as personal
interpretations of the lyric.]

It is clear to ethnopoeticians and other folklorists that oral transmission of traditional narratives is far from being a detached, impersonal investment. Performance of traditional lyrics indeed requires a personal interpretation of the subject matter disclosed. Dylan (1990: liner notes) informs his listeners:

“Broke Down Engine” is a Blind Willie McTell masterpiece. It’s about
trains, mystery on the rails—the train of love, the train that carried my girl
from town—the Southern Pacific, Baltimore & Ohio, whatever—it’s about
variations of human longing—the low hum in meters and syllables. It’s
about dupes of commerce & politics colliding on tracks, not being pushed
around by ordinary standards. It’s about revivals, getting a new lease on
life, not just posing there—paint chipped and flaked, mattress bare, single
bulb swinging above the bed. It’s about Ambiguity, the fortunes of the
privileged elite, flood control—watching the red dawn not bothering to

pp. 199-200

From Catharine Mason

“The Low Hum in Syllables and Meters”:
Blues Poetics in Bob Dylan’s Verbal Art



I’m goin’ to Chicago to get my hambone oiied –

Goin’ to Chicago to get my hambone oiied –

These Kansas City women, gonna let my hambone spoil.