How (and whether or not) to Sing the Blues



1. Most blues begin with the bald-faced lie, "I woke up this mornin'." The
truth is that nobody who sings the blues gets up before the crack of noon.

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.
(S)he got teeth like Margaret Thatcher,
And weigh 500 pound.

And here is also a fine example of blues creativity at work:
You will note that if you use "She" to begin the third line, the listener
understands that you are describing your good woman. However, if you begin
that line with "He," then, by process of elimination, you are necessarily
singing about the dog. Get it? Good! Note, also, the characteristically
poor diction (which blues people understand to be "poetic license"), in
"weigh" and "pound." When singin' the blues, if you have perfect grammar and
diction, you ain't got the blues!

4. The blues are not about limitless choice. Unless, of course, having
limitless choice causes one troubles without end. In which case, one should
sing about the troubles, and not about the choices. But you knew that.

5. Blues cars are Chevys and Cadillacs. Ford is acceptable if, and only if,
it is pronounced, as part of the song lyric, "Fode." You could tell that
Chuck Berry was clearly blues-inspired, because, in his tune "Maybelline,"
he used the phrases, "Nothin' outrun my V-8 Fode," and "Fode got hot and
wouldn't do no mo'." But only somebody with the musical stature of Bob
Dylan could get away with a blues tune entitled "From a Buick 6." And you
know that "FAB6" is a blues tune, apart from its 12-bar and 4-chord musical
structure, because of the blues lyrics and images like "I got this graveyard
woman," "She keeps this .410 all loaded with lead," "If I go down dyin',"
and, of course, "She walks like Bo Diddley." Other acceptable blues
transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound FREIGHT train (AMTRAK and
other passenger rails do not give rise to the blues, unless their whistles
and wheels are heard, passing and then receding into the distance, from
afar). Walkin' plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin'
to die, although that is not, technically, a mode of transportation, except
in the most abstract sense. And "the most abstract sense" is usually not
good blues material.

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, or knife a
woman, in Memphis, if you are a man; or, knife a man, or shoot a woman, in
Jackson or New Orleans, if you are a woman. Dynamiting some ahole's bait
shop in East Texas just doesn't qualify.

7. You can have the blues in New York City, but not in Brooklyn or Queens.
Hard times in Vermont or North Dakota is just a treatable depression, and
might actually be only the trendy ailment, "Seasonal Affective Disorder."
If that is the case, then you should consult your psychiatrist, and NOT John
Lee Hooker or B. B. King. Outside of Memphis (and, possibly, Tupelo), it is
Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City which are still the best places to have
the blues, even though they are North of the Mason-Dixon Line.

8. The following colors do not belong in the blues:

a. violet
b. beige
c. mauve
d. taupe
e. chartreuse
f. burnt sienna

9. You can't have the blues in an office or a shopping mall. The lighting
is all wrong. In fact, if you are in an office because you have an office
job, you are already disqualified from singing the blues on the grounds that
you have a steady income. Regular paydays are just about fatal to the
blues. You got any, like, spare change, man?

10. Good places for the Blues:
a. the highway
b. the jailhouse
c. the empty bed
Bad places:
a. Ashrams (NOBODY got dem ol' saffron-robe and ponytail blues, Jack).
b. Gallery openings ("Blue period" is NOT a reference to music).
c. The Hamptons (There are no "My Polo Pony Done Come Up Lame" blues).
d. Gay Paree (You can't rhyme "l'Arc de Triomphe" with anything).

11. Do you have the right to sing the blues?
Yes, if:
a. your first name is a southern state (Virginia, Georgia, Caroline, Texas).
b. your first name is a southern plant (Ivy, Magnolia, Locust, Marijuana).
c. you're blind. (In which case, bite me. You can't read this anyway).
d. you shot a man in Memphis.
e. you can't be satisfied.
f. you're one signifyin' mofo.
g. you used to own a bait shop.
h. your woman got the meanest dog in town.
No, if:
a. you were once blind but now can see.
b. you're deaf.
c. you have a trust fund.
d. you woke up this mornin'.

12. Neither Julio Iglesias nor Barbra Streisand can sing the blues. Ever.
And Barry Manilow, too, while you're at it. It is also
REALLY hard for Jews to sing the blues. Oy! Who knew? Look at the very
many Jews who tried, and the very few who succeeded. (Norman Greenbaum's
"Spirit In the Sky" is NOT a blues tune, despite its musical structure.
Besides, he converted. He now lives in an ashram. In the Hamptons. But
his woman weigh 500 pound).

13. If y'all aks fo' water and yo' Momma give y'all turpentine, it's the blues.
Other blues beverages are:
a. wine: the cheaper, the better. (Thunderbird is particularly good).
b. whiskey: ditto. (Hence, white lightning is de rigeuer).
c. muddy water (Whence, McKinley Morganfield is de rigor mortis).
d. methyl (wood) alcohol (Why Blind Lemon Jefferson was blind).
e. Gordon's Gin (Ask Elvin Bishop. Oops, sorry! He's dead. Cirrhosis).
Blues beverages are NOT:
a. Any mixed drink
b. Any wine kosher for Passover (Remember, already, about the Jews).
c. Yoo Hoo (all flavors)
d. Grape Tru-Ade

14. 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 (particularly alcohol), or being denied
treatment in an emergency room. It is not a blues death if you die during
liposuction, unless, of course, YOU are the woman that weigh 500 pound.
("The docto' suck my baby's fat, an' now I don't know where she at").

15. Persons permitted to sing the blues have names such as
a. Joe
b. Willie
c. Little Willie
d. Little Willie Joe
e. Lightnin'
f. A two-syllable nickname, by which one is known to the police, the
second syllable of which is the word "house." Good bluesmen have first
syllables like "Round," "Poor," "Bunk," "Whore," "Jail," "Mill" "Fire,"
"Farm," "Stack," "Fish," and "Smoke." Not "Court," "Coach," or
"Out." Thus, in the blues movie "Crossroads," we heard the name Willie
"Smokehouse" Brown. Other examples might be names like Whorehouse Jones,
Jailhouse Jackson, or Poorhouse Smith. However, you will not hear of a
bluesman named Outhouse Rat.
Persons with names like Heather or Biff will not be permitted to sing the
blues no matter how many men they shoot, or women they knife, in Memphis.

Source: Facebook/ The Mojo Hounds Blues Band

5 comments:

  1. Lowdown Honkie Hornman6 November 2010 at 11:29

    Somethin' else!
    Although there are some echoes of an earlier version.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lowdown, thank you for your other comment re beards and all that...

    What you clarified for me was that it was high time that not-very-helpful post about Owen Adams' article (and by a sub-editor's insertion of the beard cliche) should really be taken down. Which I've done.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What about the classic "I woke up this morning and found myself dead" !

    ReplyDelete
  4. "I'm leavin'", "I lef'" (or its variant "I don' lef'") and "I should've lef'" are all lines and can normally be fitted in somewhere.

    They come with the usual variants of he, she, they "all don' lef'"

    And then, of course, there's all the "... comin' back" lines...

    Someone with a confused SatNav could write the perfect blues song but would anyone who truly had the blues have a SatNav; even in their Fode?

    Seems unlikely.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Since I went on an anger management course I can't write the blues no more, dang it!

    ReplyDelete