Why I Love The Blues

 

Robert_johnson

People ask me to name my favorite music style, and without hesitation I have to say The Blues. I like jazz, I like top-40, I like some classical, and I like most rock, but I love The Blues.

Eric_clapton_2
Stevierayvaughn280_2I love The Blues it in most of its forms… from traditional to rock. I think the only kind I don’t usually like is that crying-in-your-beer, whiny-sounding country blues. I guess because that kind of music can actually be depressing. Real Blues is not depressing. It’s truly uplifting. It makes me tap my feet. It makes my body sway. It makes me smile. The lyrics are often hilarious. The first time I fell in love with The Blues was when I was in my mid 20’s. I owned this tank of a car, a 1968 Olds Delta 88, and it had the original radio in the console, which only picked up AM stations. There was a blues music show that would come on every Wednesday evening during my commute home from work. I still don’t know what the female singer’s name was, but that song she sang about how she was going to get revenge on her lover for cheating had me laughing out loud. I was hooked from that moment.

Memphisminnie_3 When asked, I never could truly explain why The Blues gets to me like it does. That is… until I recently purchased a CD called Birth Of The Blues: Searching For The Blues. It was about 5 bucks at one of the local discount bookstores, so I snatched it up, eager to hear more of the early stuff. On it there are traditional artists like Barbecue Bob, Brownie McGee & Washboard Sam, Big Bill Broonzy (Don’t you just love these names? Puff Daddy and Jay Z should be green with envy!), Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, and more. Anyway, it was this disc’s liner notes that hit home and explains it all for me.

“The classic blues is a twelve bar verse, three lines of four bars each, the lyric consists of couplets, with the first line repeated once. Each line of text takes about two and a half bars, the rest of the four bar segment is improvised fill, sometimes vocal, but usually provided by the Bessiesmith_5 singer’s own guitar or piano.” The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

According to strict musical definition, Blues was a folk music that evolved among ex-slaves in the 19th Century from their work songs.

The blues was frowned upon by the educated classes, both black and white, as it went against European musical practice, by uniquely using major and minor modes. “Blue notes” seemed to have stemmed more or less directly from African music.

The classic blues lyrics came from a collection of images, phrases and words including the jargon used by the American blacks to safely express themselves since the earliest days of slavery.

Not a vehicle of self-pity, contrary to belief, the Blues is a passionate and rhythmic way of keeping up the spirit. Commenting on the problems of life and love with ironic lyric and earthy imagery. Blues is ostensibly a music of great human bravery, a music to defeat the enemy by confronting him.

So, there you go – “…a passionate and rhythmic way of keeping up the spirit.” And “… a music to defeat the enemy by confronting him.” I don’t think I could have said it better than that. Even if there were no lyrics, I must admit that the sound and rhythm of The Blues stirs my soul. However, the down-to-earth messages in these songs – the lyrics about the shared human condition of being low and trying to live with it and move on – that really resonates for me.

B.B. King, a Bluesman who knows how to keep on keeping up the spirit, just turned 82 this month… on September 16. His, I’ve Got Some Outside Help I Don’t Need, is one of my favorite Blues songs with my favorite lines, “I want to tell that slick insurance man that he better write some insurance on his self.” Happy Birthday, B.B., and thanks for all the smiles!

I’ve Got Some Outside Help I Don’t NeedBbking2006_5

All of your affection is gone baby
And your love is growing cold
I’ve said all of your affection is gone baby
and your love is growing cold
Hey, I’ve got a new story to tell you this evening, baby
One that ain’t never been told

I went to work the other day
But I thought that I would double back
And that car I saw sitting in front of my door
Looked like a brand new, a brand new Cadillac, yeah!

I ain’t got none now baby
I think you’ve been cheating on me
I believe to my soul baby,
that you’ve given me some outside help
That I don’t think I really need

The iceman came by this morning
And you know he didn’t leave no ice
The postman came by later baby
And he didn’t even ring twice

I think you’ve been cheating on me
I think you’re running out on me
I believe to my soul baby,
that you’ve given me some outside help
That I don’t think I really need

Now, I want you to tell the iceman
The next time he’d better leave some ice
And I want you to tell the postman
He’d better ring more than twice

And when I come home from work in the morning
Better still be some groceries on the shelf.
I want to tell that slick insurance man
That he’d better write some insurance on his self.

Yes, I think you’ve been cheating on me
I think you’re running out on me
I believe to my soul baby,
that you’ve given me some help, some help
Some help, I don’t really need

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