Classic Blues

Ma Rainey


During the period of 1890-1910, new sounds began to appear in African American music. Field hollers & work songs, banjo tunes & minstrelsy, spirituals & church songs, folk ballads & folk Blues blended into the creation of a new genre, the Classic Blues. 

The 'popular Blues' of Peter C Muir, the classic city Blues, were different from the rural folk Blues ... and different from the later urban Blues which was a line which went to Chicago and R&B and Sun records and rockabilly.

The Blues became a continuous golden thread throughout popular music, continuing to grow and develop from its different forms in the Deep South. Maybe three broad forms: rural Blues (Mississippi Delta), urban Blues (Chicago), and the titular Blues of Minstrelsy (Vaudeville). Each of these three types of Blues would rise to their primes leading to the success of another type, creating an evolution in the music that would turn from raw, individual performance to modern electric powered Blues bands.

The Blues survived the Depression, as well as a general perception by many of the Blues as 'devil' music, and continued to thrive and remain as a popular genre. The individuals who brought up this genre were the children of freed slaves who were born into freedom, but the passing of the Jim Crow laws led them to express their daily emotions through music ... as they always had done. This was the defining characteristic of the Blues, expressing 'Blues' through rhythms and pitches. But these were not necessarily of sadness but also of joy & celebration. As Albert Murray suggested the Saturday night function was very close to the Sunday morning jubilee and 'stomping the Blues away' was the way to go.

Recognisable forms of the Blues started to be published in the first decade of the century. Handy's 'Memphis Blues' was long considered the first in 1912. But the debate over which was the first Blues work was a heated one among music historians. However, the first Blues was probably Hughie Canon's 'Frankie and Johnny' in 1904 under the title 'He Done Me Wrong'. Then in 1908, Antonio Maggio's instrumental 'I got the Blues' was published. In 1909, Robert Hoffman's 'The Alabama Bound' was published as a 'Ragtime Two Step', becoming the first such song published by a white man. 'Baby Seal Blues' by H Franklin Seals also appeared in 1912 and was performed as a Blues number in a vaudevillian act in Memphis.

These were all inspired by the black street singers rooted in the rural folk Blues. The emotional haunting music of the Blues emerged out of the work songs and church songs. These 'riveting laments of the rural South' were from field hollers and the Baptist jubilees.

Blues were not always sad, they encompassed all emotions, and their characteristic sound and form fused into the classic Blues. A musical genres distinguished as a matter of 12 bars and 3 stanza structure, tonality around the tonic, dominant & sub dominant and a pentatonic scale with added flattened 'blue' notes.

A sort of chronology of the classic Blues which are still played today -

1912 'Dallas Blues' by Hart Wand (1887-1960) was another song that claimed to be published in 1912.

St Louis BluesW C Handy (1873-1958) was a keen student and collector as well as a publisher of the Blues, and perhaps correctly described as 'the father of the Blues'. He was from Florence, Alabama, the son of freed slaves, his father was a Methodist minister, but W C became a cornet player, bandsman and musical arranger. After settling in Memphis he wrote a campaign song for a local politico 'Mr Crump' ... a song that was a Blues much loved by the dancers and eventually published as 'The Memphis Blues'.

1912 'Memphis Blues' was a hit with Irene and Vernon Castle who used the tune to demonstrate their 'fox trot' routine.

1914 'St Louis Blues' was perhaps his most famous. 'St Louis Blues' was a type of ragtime Blues that was popular with the 'ragtime' bands of the time. Blues and ragtime format were mixed in the same way as the very first Blues, 'I Got the Blues', it was likely the most complex form of Blues at the time. Pain and strength, the essence of the Blues. A multi strained AABC pattern with an innovative method of writing blue note effects. The 12 bar form crystallised, with a recognisable structure, the 'traditional' repetition of the folk Blues was retained but only twice with an obviously contrasting release. Plenty of 'space' enabling call and response. And also a 'Spanish tinge'! A ragtime interlude.

Some did not consider such songs as the Blues, 'it's a pretty tune, and it has a kind of Bluesy tone, but it's not the Blues, you can't dress up the Blues'. Clearly such a view was rooted in folk Blues and Handy was moving on to a Classic Blues form.

Debate continued as to whether Handy actually created the piece. 'Mr Handy cannot prove that he has created any music. He has possibly taken advantage of some unprotected material that sometimes floats around'. Handy himself admitted that he had not created the Blues, but merely transcribed and arranged the haunting sounds he first heard in rural Mississippi. 

'Yellow Dog Blues' 1914, 'Beale Street Blues' 1916, 'Joe Turner Blues', 'Hesitating Blues', 'Ole Miss', 'The House of the Blues', but nobody was singing his Blues ... times were hard and 'Aunt Hagar's Blues' 1920, was sold ... 'Loveless Love' embraced the traditional 'Careless Love', 'John Henry Blues' embraced the traditional 'John Henry', 'Harlem Blues' embraced the traditional 'Gotta Travel On', 'Atlanta Blues' embraced the traditional 'Make Me a Pallet on the Floor'. Then W C fell out with Jelly Roll!

As Handy moved into 'folk Blues' ... in 1920 Perry Bradford and Mamie Smith went into the stratosphere with 'Crazy Blues' ... things were happening ... Harry Pace moved to Black Swan Records and recruited Ethel Waters and Alberta Hunter ... and therein lay a story ... 

The Blues: An Anthology by W C Handy was published in 1926. Handy supposed The Blues were generally unknown as they grew out of the yarns of poor, itinerant blacks as they entertained with stories and a guitar ... around the turn of the century. Perhaps from old work songs, spirituals and bits of legend. They could be jaunty for dancing ... or slow laments ... endless variety for every occasion and mood. By the time the anthology was published The Blues had emerged in its classic form and Handy captured in print some 70 of the now formalised musical yarns ... or even fragments of remembered yarns. Of course they competed with a myriad of parlour songs, hymns and brass band instrumentals ... but they were different with a spooky untamed appeal to white folks wherever ... Beal Street or Appalachia. Through his writing and publication W C Handy probably did more than anyone else to establish and popularise the Classic Blues. Handy learned the value of -

the creative roots of the old folk blues

his own creative skills

the rewards of self publishing ... control was lost for 'Memphis Blues', 'Yellow Dog Blues', 'Beale Street Blues', 'Aunt Hagar's Children'

the hook of lyrics ... 'there's a feller there named Handy with a band you should here' ...

moving from Memphis to New York

the broad church of The Blues ... 'ragtime' was included in but not the trivia of 'coon songs' ... Gershwin and Berlin were included in

a tidal wave had been unleashed.

Armand J Piron (1888-1943) violin, he took over from Freddie Keppard as leader of the Olympia Band in 1913 and brought in Joe Oliver. Clarence Williams was his pianist in a vaudeville duo and they started publishing songs as Piron & Williams. In 1918 they opened a Chicago branch.

1919 'I Wish I could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate'. 

Perry Bradford (1893-1970) jump started the careers of the Blues girls with a 'black' sound that became the rage and led to a whole genre of race records. 
1916 'Lonesome Blues', 1918 'Broken Hearted Blues', 'Harlem Blues' sung by Mamie Smith was a hit in the show 'Made in Harlem'. Then 'Crazy Blues' ... 
1922 'Wicked Blues', 'Unexpectedly'. 1925 Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools with Louis, 'I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle' and 'Lucy Long'.

And writing and publishing for James P Johnson, 'Keep Shufflin'', 'Messin' Around'.

Finally Louis Jordan, 'Keep a Knockin''. But Perry Bradford's tunes never became standards.

Clarence WilliamsClarence Williams (1893-1965) dominated the Blues in the 1920s. He published 400 song sheets and he wrote 200 of them. He recorded 700 sides. 

 The Clarence Williams Blue Five recorded for Okeh from 1923. A series of sessions that featured some of the best Jazz musicians and Blues singers of the early 1920s. Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins and Bubber Miley all were featured as soloists, and Blues singers Sippie Wallace, Margaret Johnson, Virginia Liston and Williams' wife, Eva Taylor.

1919 'I Wish I could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate' ... 'Brown Skin', 'Wild Flower'.

Eva Taylor married Clarence Williams in 1921, a pretty singer/dancer. 'Baby won't You Please Come Home', 'I Ain't got Nobody', ''Tain't Nobody's Business if I Do'.

Then in 1923 Bessie Smith recorded with Clarence Williams.

After a bust up with Bessie, Clarence recorded endlessly for Okeh also with Eva and Sara Martin and Mamie Smith. The Blue Fives, Bechet, Tim Brymn, Eddie Heywood were collaborators. He published Piron's songs, 'New Orleans Wiggle', 'Kiss Me Sweet', 'Mama's Gone Goodbye', 'Bouncing Around'. Then 1924 'Cake Walkin' Babies' and 'Everybody Loves My Baby' and James P and Willie The Lion and Fats. 1927 'Bottom Land'. 1928 Joe Oliver.

By the end of the 1920s the Blues craze was dead, a desperate last fling only produced smut. He tried radio and remained prosperous selling his catalogue to Decca in 1943 for $50,000. But eventually the Big Bands saw him off.

Spencer Williams  (1889-1965) was raised in Storyville by Lulu White of Mahogany Hall fame. He took over from Piron as Williams' partner in 1919.

He moved to Chicago in 1907. His first hit 'I Ain't got Nobody' in 1914. Then in 1916 his first Blues 'Paradise Blues', then in 1917 a hot dance number, 'Shim Mee Sha Wabble', then 'Tishomingo Blues'. What a sequence!

In 1919 his starts his collaboration with Clarence Williams. 'I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of this Jelly Roll', 'Yama Yama Blues', 'Royal Garden Blues' (the first 'riff' song), 'Sugar Blues'.

In 1921 they both moved to New York to get in on the Blues craze.

'Everybody Loves My Baby', 'I Found a New Baby'. And his big break 'La Revue Negre' with 19 year old dancer Josephine Baker in France. In the chorus in 'Shuffle Along' and 'Chocolate Dandies'. 'Wiggling and jiggling in a fashion to outdo a congress of eels'! France was ready for American music and sex.

Spencer Williams became a Parisian and in Sudbury on Thames, a Londoner. But never forget 'Basin Street Blues' with Jack Teagarden, 'When Lights are Low' with Benny Carter and 'It's the Bluest Kind of Blues' with Django.

The publication and recording of the Classic Blues was a familiar history but there was an unfamiliar history of the Classic Blues ...

The girls dominated performance of the Classic Blues?

Why 'Lady Sings the Blues'? Why 'Ladies in Blue'? The divas in control? Why were so many Classic Blues singers female?

Traditional folk Blues met the urban vaudeville theatre in the Classic 12 bar Blues performed by girls accompanied by pianists or small jazz ensembles. And in 1920 the first Blues song was recorded; folk Blues were around way before that but were not recorded. For sure from 1912 the men wrote the songs down and ran the 'business' of publishing and promoting and the men put the girls on the stage and into the recording studios. Or did they?

In the 1920s music was sold by blacks for blacks and by whites for whites and in time two genres emerged 'Blues' and 'country'. There was no clear distinction at the time, the early country music was infused with the Blues. Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams have all described themselves as Blues singers and their music had a tell tale Blues feel.

The Theater Owners Booking Association, TOBA, oversaw the black action. TOBA, was 'tough on black asses', and for sure the whites had the money ... but the blacks had the rhythms.

lack BluesBums on seats were needed and whites were never slow in importing the black rhythm into their shows. The white Minstrel men black faced without problems and both white and blacks needed chorus girls. There were never ever any chorus men ... and out of the chorus line came the black singers.

The whites just couldn't sing the Blues properly; you had to 'feel' the Blues. But the black girls performed not only with captivating rhythms but they also sang about provocative, pervasive and exciting sexual imagery. At the same time the whites were still singing about saccharine and idealized romantic love. What was to be done?

In 1920 the recording of black girls for black punters got underway ... and the sales success spread to whites, the Blues were infectious. Blues became a nationwide craze. 'Race Records' were selling to the excited whites ... the whites had the money ... but the blacks had the rhythms! What was going on?

There was a new social reality; the girls had been freed from slavery as well as the men. And freedom had a special significance for women, love and domesticity were their life, and choosing a father for their children was tops? Was the patriarchal society a myth?

Lil JohnsonSlavery involved the prohibition of freely chosen mating, slaves were legally defined property, women were valued as breeding potential, and sexual exploitation of black women by their white masters was a constant.

After 1865 political & economic freedom for the slaves ended up as a damp squib as Jim Crow laws continued to tyrannise & oppress their freedoms. History books write of the failure to bring true political freedoms but the same books were strangely silent about sex ... but the freedom to travel and choose a sex mate was a massive change as sexual freedom became rampant.

And it was sex that the girls sang about ... the evidence was in the Blues ... listen to the lyrics! The Blues didn't talk about marriage and family but about choosing a reliable mate ...

The girls were now making autonomous decisions ... and the freedom to choose a mate (absent during slavery) was a much bigger deal for the women than the men and they sang about it with compelling conviction in the Blues.

So why was sexual freedom much more important for the girls than for the men? Why was it a bigger deal for the ladies?

Think about it ... think about the biological investment risk, once a month and then nothing for 9 months against billions five times a night?

No wonder it was the girls who were passionate, no wonder they sang about sex ... and it showed ... listen to the Blues ... listen to the lyrics.

In 1994 David Buss, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas explained –

'Males have small sex cells, millions of replenishable sperm that move, females have large sex cells, an unreplenishable lifetime supply of 400 ova, a much greater investment. One sex act of minimal male investment produces an energy consuming 9 month investment by the woman that forecloses alternative mating opportunities. Women then bear the further burden of lactation which could last 3 to 4 years. Females bear the investment burden of internal fertilisation, gestation and lactation. Those who hold valuable resources do not give them away cheaply. Sex for women risked enormous investment. Evolution favoured women who were highly selective about their mates. If they were indiscriminate fewer of their children survived. Sex psychology evolved millions of years ago to cope with adaptive problems. Some men are cads other men are dads.'

And as Richard Dawkins in 1976 wrote -

‘genes do cost benefit analysis’!

The Blues were all about the hard emotional risk involved with the cads v. the dads?

See - 'Blue Notes on Black Sexuality' Journal of the History of Sexuality, 1993.

See - 'King Size Papas (& Mighty Tight Women)' a documentary produced for Radio 4 in 2007.

Thus it was the girls who played a key role in the Classic Blues. The rage started in 1920 when the first successful popular record of the Blues was released by a female vocalists accompanied by a pianist & small band. These records became more important than sheet music. The Blues women of the twenties were all associated with Vaudeville, as were most of their peers.

Crazy BluesMamie Smith (1890-1946)

1920 'Crazy Blues' signaled the start of the Classic Blues record buying craze. Although there's a question as to which song was truly the first Blues song published, there is no dispute as to which was the first to be recorded. In 1920, the first vocal Blues by a black singer was released on a phonograph; 'Crazy Blues' by Mamie Smith. Smith recorded the song originally written by Perry Bradford, with her 'Jazz Hounds' for Okeh Records on August 10th 1920. Maybe this was an example of 'titular' Blues, common with the Vaudeville shows of the time. ABC type, 16 bars 12 bars 16 bars. With the success of the recording, Smith opened the door not only for other female Blues singers, but for all Blues musicians as record companies began to see the black race market as a profitable prospect. The Jazz Hounds were the first black band to record, 'That Thing Called Love' and 'Old Time Blues.

Sara Martin (1884-1955)

1922 'Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do'

Ma RaineyMa Rainey (1886-1939) with The Rabbit Foot Minstrels and 'See See Rider' was the original role model for a spate of girl Blues shouters.

1923 'Bad Luck Blues', 'Bo-Weavil Blues', 'Moonshine Blues' ... 'Bo-Weavil Blues' with pianist Lovie Austin (1887-) who also led her 'Blues Serenaders' ...

1924 'Dream Blues' with the Pruitt Twins and two guitars.

Ida Cox (1889-1967) - stood flat foot and sang, 'Any Woman's Blues', ''Bama Bound Blues', 'Lovin' is the Thing', 'Death Letter Blues', 'Wild Women', 'Graveyard Dream Blues'

Bessie SmithBessie Smith (1894-1937) led the follow up with 'Gulf Coast Blues'. Bessie had the largest soul, and it showed.

1923 'Downhearted Blues'

When Louis was with Fletcher in New York he was recording Blues with Bessie and Clarence Williams. Bessie was the greatest of them all, but there were other girls ...  

Clara Smith (1894-1935) 'the South's favourite Coon Shouter' who toured with The Dixie Steppers and Josephine Baker ...

1923 'Far Away Blues' ... 1925 'Percolatin' Blues' by Lemuel Fowler

Eva Taylor (1895-1977) married Clarence Williams.

Alberta Hunter (1895-1984) from Vaudeville.

Trixie Smith (1895-1943) 'You Missed a Good Woman when You Picked over Me' was Clarence Williams' first song. 

1922 'My Daddy Rocks Me'

Ethel Waters (1896-1977) started in 'Tillies Chicken Grill'. A great shimmy dancer from Vaudeville. A rape baby singing bawdy Blues with soft insinuation 'Organ Grinder Blues', 'My Handy Man', 'Do What You did Last Night', 'Stormy Weather' ...

1921 'Down Home Blues', 'Am I Blue',
A light clear voice contrasting with Bessie. She did the Vaudeville circuit and migrated to Blues influenced 'popular' songs. They loved her.  The mother of all popular black girl singers.

Edith Wilson (1896-1981)

Rosa Henderson (1896-1968)

Sippie Wallace (1898-1986)

Chippie Hill and girls not exclusively singing the Blues.

Sophie Tucker (1888-1966) the last of the red hot mamas, an imitation 'coon shouter'. The queen of Vaudeville - 'Some of These Days'

Georgia White (1903-80) 'When You're Smiling'

Hociel Thomas (1904-52) the niece of Sippie Wallace ...

Victoria Spivey (1906-1976) 'I Got a Man in 'bama Mines'

Josephine Baker (1906-75) teenage 'Charleston' sensation, famous in Paris in the 'Revue Negre'.

Mildred Bailey (1907-51) 'St Louis Blues', 'Dinah', 'Stormy Weather', 'Heat Wave'.

Race RecordsThe Race Recordings.

J Mayo 'Ink' Williams (1894-1980), a Brown graduate and successful football player, in 1924 he joined Paramount Records and produced and marketed 'race' records. He became the most successful Blues producer of his time.

He was the only black recording executive during the 'race' records craze (Blues, jazz and girl singers). Harry Pace and Black Swan were first, but in 1922 Paramount started their 'race' series and absorbed Black Swan. By 1919 there were 2 1/4 million homes with phonographs. The big 3 recording companies were Edison, Columbia, Victor, with Gennett in Richmond in 1925, Brunswick and Emerson in 1916 and Paramount in 1917 ... Okeh, Vocalian.

Two of Mayo's biggest discoveries as recording artists were singer Ma Rainey and Papa Charlie Jackson, the first commercially successful self accompanied Blues singer of 'Shake that Thing'. 

Mayo, based in the Chicago branch, recruited Georgia Tom Dorsey. Alberta Hunter was a mainstay but Ida Cox was Mayo's first 'find'. Lovie Austin was used as accompanist. Jimmy Blythe, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver & Freddie Keppard, Tampa Red ... Tiny Parham ... Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897-1929) with 'Long Lonesome Blues' & 'Matchbox Blues' was Paramount's biggest but Mayo was sidelined and lost status!

After Charlie Patton, Son House and Skip James Paramount's 'race' records stopped in 1932.

But Mayo had left by then and in 1927, he started the 'Black Patti' label which failed, and he then moved to Brunswick Records & Vocalion, where he recorded Clarence 'Pine Top' Smith 'Pinetop's Boogie Woogie', Georgia Tom & Tampa Red 'It's Tight Like That', a hokum jug band. Then Chippie Hill (1905-1950) and Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) and Leroy Carr (1905-1935).

Mayo claimed 'Corrine Corrina'. Radio made inroads into the recording business, Victor merged with RCA in 1929. Vocalion survived but Mayo did not, he left in 1931. Brunswick was bought by Warner. Columbia (Okeh absorbed in 1926) was bought by a radio company. 

Then British Decca signed Crosby in 1934 and wanted a 'race' series and Mayo was recruited. There he recorded Mahalia Jackson, Alberta Hunter, Blind Boy Fuller, Roosevelt Sykes, Sleepy John Estes, Kokomo Arnold, Peetie Wheatstraw, Bill Gaither, Bumble Bee Slim, Georgia White, Trixie Smith, Monette Moore, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Marie Knight, Tab Smith ... and the small group sound of The Harlem Hamfats. Clarence Williams and Willie the Lion Smith produced respectable sales.

Then Decca got the big bands, Fletcher Henderson, Lunceford, Chick Webb ... Mayo Williams gave Decca the 'Harlem Hamfats', the first 'Jump Band' in 1936. Then Louis Jordan in 1938. And 'Rock 'n' Roll was on its way! The Ink Spots in 1939.

Things were getting too big at Decca and Milt Gabler was brought in 1941 to 'supervise'. Williams left Decca in 1945.

The Hot Blues Bands, The Spasm Bands, The Jug Bands, The Skiffle Groups ... 

W C Handy pioneered instrumental Blues on Beale Street, Memphis, a location which became an important centre.

Mamie Smith's 'Jazz Hounds' and Perry Bradford's 'Jazz Phools' were Blues bands which accompanied singers and also recorded instrumentals.

Clarence Williams Blue Five with and without Eva Taylor.

The Memphis Jug Band and Will Shade (-), recorded 80 sides 1927-30 for Victor.

Cannon's Jug Stompers and Gus Cannon (1883-1979), recorded 26 sides 1927-30.

Lonnie Donegan's Skiffle Group ... was popular phenomena during the British trad revival.

Long Lost Blues'Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America 1850-1920' by Peter C Muir, 2010.

Folk Blues interacting with popular songs via Black Vaudeville into sheet music (1912) and recordings (1914).

1908 'I Got The Blues' by Antonio Maggio. First 'Blues' named 12 bars strain A. Upbeat ragtime.

1912 'The Blues' ex 'His Honor the Barber', by Chris Smith & Tim Brymn. 'Baby Seals Blues' by H Franklin Seals, 'Dallas Blues' by Hart A Ward, 'Memphis Blues' by W C Handy.

1914 'Yellow Dog Blues' by W C Handy. 'Florida Blues' by William King Phillips who was in Handy's Band. 'Long Lost Blues' by J Paul Wyer, also in Handy's Band. Blusey songs like 'Original Blues' by Ted Barron. 'New York Tango Blues' by William Spillers were never popular. 

1915 'Hesitating Blues' and 'Joe Turner Blues' by W C Handy, 'Jelly Roll Blues' by Jelly Roll Morton. 'Weary Blues' by Art Matthews. 'Chinese Blues' by Fred D Moore & Oscar Gardner. 'Old Kentucky Blues' by James Vaughan, J Homer & Salem Tutt Whitney. 'Just Blues' by Dorothy Harris. Slow mournful.

1916 the first white musical show included a Blues, 'Bull Frog Blues'. By 1919 'Laughing Blues' and then in 1920 'Left All Alone Again Blues' by Jerome Kern.

'Nigger Blues' by Le Roy 'Lasses' White, 1913. First person emotions of the Blues. Classic Folk Blues. 3 x 12 bar Blues verses. Homeopathic cure for the Blues.

'Broadway Blues' by Terry Sherman & J Brandon Walsh, 1915. Tin Pan Alley thematic verse/chorus. Sophie Tucker. 2 x 16 bar verse, 32 bar chorus. Allopathic, happy go lucky, joyous songs of the southern negro. Contrast with the homeopathic folk Blues. The fun, amorous, dancing music ... ragtime & jazz. Up tempo, syncopated. 'Livery Stable Blues'. The Louisiana Five played 19 Blues in 29 recordings in 1919. Then came the bawdy, raucous, barrelhouse, 'hokum' Blues.

From 1914 black minstrelsy companies included W C Handy's Blues arrangements and specialist 'Blues singers'. The circus sideshows also featured the Blues ... and the medicine shows ... the Blues were spreading everywhere. The Blues alleviated the Blues as the miserable depression of blue devils. Deep potency. Earthy & passionate. Vernacular music. Therapeutic. A rhythmic tonic for the chronic Blues. Cathartic. Calming sorrow, melancholy & lovesickness by passing solitude & analysis in favour of the Roaring Meg of social emotion. You live for music but music makes you live.

1919/20 Bert Williams waxed the Blues: 'Unlucky Blues', 'Lonesome Alimony Blues', 'I'm Sorry I Ain't got It, You can have it if I had it Blues'. Blues Bands - W C Handy, Ford Dabney ... 'Rainy Day Blues', James Rees Europe and Wilbur Sweatman ... 'Kansas City Blues' ... and pianists James P Johnson ... 'Mama's Blues', Lucky Roberts, Eubie Blake, Maceo Pinkard, Clarence M Jones ... 'Left All Alone Again Blues' by Jerome Kern ... 'Suicide Blues' by Peter de Rose ... all before the 'Crazy Blues' watershed. In 1920 Handy moved north to Chicago then New York - 'Kaiser's got the Blues', 'Aunt Hagar's Blues' ... then followed less success - 'Loveless Love' 1921, 'Southside' 1922, 'Atlanta Blues' 1923, 'Harlem Blues' 1923, 'Bsement Blues' 1924, 'The Gouge of Armour Avenue- 1924, 'Wall Street Blues' 1929, 'Go get the Enemy' 1942.

Folk Blues = 'Tuxedo Blues', 'Alabama Blues', 'Snakey Blues'. Relationship Blues = 'Wash Tub Blues'.

Nostalgia Blues = 'Tishomingo Blues', 'Carolina Blues'.

Prohibition Blues = 'Beale Street Blues', 'Alcoholic Blues', 'Prohibition Blues', 'Bone Dry Blues' by June Bauer 1918. 

War Blues = 'War Bride Blues', 'Kaiser's got the Blues'.

Reflexive Blues (lyrics reflect 'Blues', 'bands', 'dancing' = 'Memphis Blues', 'Paradise Blues', 'Hula Blues', 'Ballin' the Jack', 'Kansas City Blues', 'Jazzin' the Cotton Town Blues'.

Instrumental Blues - 'Southern Rags' for social dancing. One Step 260 bpm. Fox Trot 160 bpm. Slow Drag. The Blues is Jazz.

'Bone Head Blues', 'Original Blues', 'Meadowbrook Foxtrot', 'Bevo Blues', 'Sterling Foxtrot', 'Jelly Roll Blues'.

The Southern Blues close to the fountain head - 'Baby Seals Blues' put the Blues into black vaudeville opera. 'Crazy Blues' by Perry Bradford was the breakthrough; but he also wrote 'Lonesome Blues' 1916, 'Harlem Blues' 1917, 'Broken Hearted Blues' 1918, 'Don't Care Blues' 1919, 'Fare Thee Honey Blues' 1920. 'Dallas Blues' by Hart A Wand, a white violinists who pushed the Blues into popularity. Euday Bowman (12th Street Rag) gave us  his ragtime Blues, 'Forth Worth Blues', 'Colorado Blues', 'Kansas City Blues', 'Tipperary Blues' ... George W Thomas, a black, pianist, composer, publisher, arranger and recording artist, his daughter was Hociel and sister Sippie Wallace; 'New Orleans Hop Scop Blues' 1916 was the first boogie woogie, 'Houston Blues' 1918, 'Muscle Shoals Blues' 1919.

Hughie Cannon and John QueenDid Hughie Cannon (1877-1912) write the Blues? A white ragtime pianist and Minstrel and dancer ... from Detroit. The verses of his coon songs used the 12 bar structure. 'You Needn't Come Home' 1901, used the 'Frankie & Johnny' delayed plagal in bar 7 ... and the rhythmic shift in bar 8 for the last four bars ... and, of course, the 'he done me wrong' tragic undertone of the Blues. Thus 'Bill Bailey' and 'Frankie & Johnny' were derived from black folk oral tradition and a 'family' of songs, 'Blues ballads', associated with John Queen and a group of white Minstrels were established in Vaudeville. John Queen (1860-1902) from New Orleans was a champion of black Blues long before Alan Lomax!

The Blues ballad told a 'story' about legendary other folk at a bright tempo. The classic Blues was a 'conversation' between deeply involved participants. A slow drag cathartic therapy for curing the Blues. From 1911 the 'classic' 12 bar blues was standardised and 'Frankie & Johnny' almost disappeared. The verse of run away success 'Oh You Beautiful Doll' acclimatised ears to the classic call & response of the 12 bar sequence.

Technical - The 12 bar Blues

The 'idiom' -

- The Blues song, 'I Got The Blues' a lover's lament ... 'Wen hes gets up in de mornin he feels bad, and wen hes goes to bed at nite he feels wusser'.  

- 12 bar structure with the first move from the I chord to the IV chord in bar 5, key change and chromatic bVI chord for colouring = 'Original Blues', 'Joe Turner Blues', 'Tennessee Blues'.

Abbe Niles (-) Handy's soul mate, was first to identify the 'special fondness' of Blues players for the C to F chords and F to C (plagal cadence) movements ... by adding the flat seventh to the F chord, F7, there was a bluesy sound which kept the critical third, E, 'in play' all the time ... but with the pleasing excitement of uncertainty before the satisfying resolution.

- 2 bar 'call' and 2 bar 'response' phrasing patterns from field hollers free up space for involved listeners to contribute. Usually suitably doleful slow drag phrases of falling contours 

- blue notes; flatted, slurs, wavers, crushed  =  'Profiteering Blues'.

- three note motif = a blue 3rd, its resolution & drop to the root = Bb/B/G = 'St Louis Blues'.

- barber shop endings = /C-E-Eb-D/C  = 'Memphis Blues'.

- 4 note chromatic motifs = /*-G-F#-F/E  = 'Dallas Blues', 'Those Draftin' Blues'.

Blues SequenceThe classic Blues sound probably emerged from banjo strumming with agreeable C G7 C chords alternated. The easily fingered Eb C G C also took the music the other way. Finger picking repetitive patterns, jumping a 5th and slowly descending were typical.

The music was essentially rhythmic not harmonic and crystallised into the standard 3 chord, 3 stanza, 12 bar form. The tonic and dominant were the big chords, both with flattened 3rds, with a less dramatic subdominant in the second stanza.

Development - there has been more jazz played around the Blues sequence over the years, than all other sequences put together. The Blues fathered all legitimate jazz. Whatever you listen to, wherever you go you are bound to hear the Blues played ... in varying styles, in varying forms but still basically the Blues.

Normally a composer first constructed a melody and afterwards he fitted an appropriate, correct sounding chord sequence to that melody. The usual pattern established the key sound and then moved away before returning to the original key to finish. The way the chords moved from and to the tonic must sound right and the generally accepted 'rules' were well understood and represented the germ from which all music was derived with its immense variety.

Blues were different. Although the music moved from and then back to the key sound it did so within a fixed sequence of chords. The same traditional set of chords had been handed down from the very early start of jazz. Styles changed but jazzers remained loyal to the Blues vehicle. It was the sequence which distinguished the Blues from other toons. Chords first, the melody was created afterwards.

The particular attraction of the Blues to jazz musicians was that they were free to create rhythmic and melodic patterns around a familiar framework. Thousands of Blues of with unimaginable diversity have been created over the years around the same basic framework. When improvising some sort of framework was essential to avoid chaos, and because jazz was essentially a rhythmic music the relative simplicity of the harmony was irrelevant. Nevertheless the basic sequence could be adapted and 'enhanced' in endless ways to avoid monotony, but the fundamental 'feeling' of the Blues sequence was always intact.

The Blues was a specific song form with a 12 bar structure with 3 phrases and the ubiquitous 3 chord trick, the Chord Sequence - 

C / / /     / / / /   / / / /   C7 / / /
F / / /     / / / /   C / / /   / / / /
G7 / / /  / / / /   C / / /   G7 / / /

The pattern was always 3 groups of 4 bars, with fitting words. The words were significant and usually stated in the first 4 bars, an issue, repeated with a variation in the 2nd 4 bars, the issue was important, and then a release to the dominant 7th in the last 4 bars as the issue was resolved. This was story tellin' with meaning.

The big change in the 9th bar and the lesser one in the 5th are always retained but the harmony can be 'enhanced' - with 7th chords (and 9ths), a move to the subdominant can be made early in the 2nd bar, the minor inserted in bar 6 and 'turnarounds' introduced in the 11th and 12th, and perhaps in the 7th and 8th. More recently the dominant resolving through the subdominant in the 10th has become very common.

The Blues Scale - in addition to the 'feel' of the sequence, the characteristic Blues sound was generated by rhythmic interpretation of the Blues scale. This was essentially the 3 chord notes with the addition of the 2 'blue' notes, the flattened 3rd and flattened 7th. These 5 notes were played as a pentatonic scale with the big advantage that they always seemed right even though the harmony changes and if you stuck to the 5 notes melodies emerge; it sounded great, and you heard it everywhere.

C Blues scale C Eb F G Bb

Think of it as the Eb pentatonic scale played in C major!!
i.e. = the 3 BIG notes + the 2 BLUE notes! (In more recent times a flattened 5th is frequently added)

Tips for Singin' The Blues: a folk tradition -

The Blues was the Blues but some Blues were not standard they were just the Blues and some called 'Blues' were not Blues at all ...

1. Most Blues begin with the phrase: 'woke up this mornin''

2. 'I got a good woman' is a bad way to begin the Blues, you must stick something low-down 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 -

Got a good woman with the meanest dog in town

Got a good woman with the meanest dog in town

He got teeth like Steve Buscemi and weighs 'bout 500 pounds.

4. The Blues are not about limitless choice. Deciding between the opera and the ballet are not part of the Blues. You stuck in a ditch, you ain't got no way out; that is the Blues.

5. Blues cars are Chevies and Cadillacs. A broke-down truck is also good. Other acceptable Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. The Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles.

Walkin' plays a major part in the Blues lifestyle. A Bluesman don't jog.

6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues. They ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing the 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 Hawaii or any place in Canada. 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 colours 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, the lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the

10. Locations for the Blues -

Good Places: a) The highway b). The jailhouse c) The bottom of a whiskey glass

Bad Places: a) Weddings b) Gallery openings c) Wine Tastings

11. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, unless you happen to be an old man and you slept in it.

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 were once blind but now can see. b) the Man in Memphis lived. c) you have a trust fund.

13. Blues is not a matter of colour. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the Blues. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the Blues. Richard Nixon could have sung the Blues. Neither Julio Iglesias nor Barbara 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) cheap wine. b) whiskey or bourbon. c) muddy water.

Blues beverages are NOT: a) Any mixed drink. b) Champagne. c) Yoo Hoo (all flavours). d. sparkling water.

15. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is a Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, or dying lonely on a broken cot. It is not a Blues death if you die during a 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) Big Willie.

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

18. Other Blues Names (Starter Kit)

a. Name of Physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame; Asthmatic). b. First name (see above) or name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi). c. Last Name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.).

For example: Blind Lemon Johnson, or Asthmatic Kiwi Jefferson. Some combinations work better for the Blues than others.

19. I don't care how tragic your life is: if you own a computer with a high-speed Internet connection, you cannot sing the Blues. You best destroy it. Spill a bottle of Mad Dog on it, take it out with your shot gun, or use it to kill a man in Memphis, I don't care. Just get rid of it.

20. Epitaph on a Blues musician's tombstone: 'I didn't wake up this morning.'


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