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A lot of people play this music and what they'll do is do a cover. I don't do a cover, I do a dedication - Jerry Ricks, on playing traditional blues, interview in Blues Review No. 46, April 1999

Author Topic: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?  (Read 6004 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #15 on: November 11, 2007, 11:04:31 AM »
Clarence Williams has composer credit for it on her recording. 
Thanks to Tom Lord we know it was copyrighted by Clarence Williams Music Publishing Co. December 21st 1925!

Offline dj

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #16 on: November 11, 2007, 11:40:59 AM »
Thanks for the info on "Florida Bound Blues", MTJ3.  The verse about bell bottom pants (i.e. sailors) makes a lot more sense knowing it was originally meant for a woman to sing!


Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #17 on: July 15, 2008, 06:32:46 PM »
Hi all,
Despite this thread not having been posted to in some time, I think the issues it raises are still interesting.  There are a couple of paragraphs that Dr. Harry Oster wrote in his notes to the Prestige Bluesville Smoky Babe album, "Hottest Brand Goin'", that I've intended to post here for some time.  I finally remembered and had access to the notes so here goes.  This was written around 1961 I believe, but Stefan Wirz could probably give us an exact release date for the record.

   "Modern blues can be roughly divided into two functional types:  those of self-expression, in which the singer gets off his chest what is disturbing or elating him; and blues for dancing--the more common type--which in some cases may have originated in self-expression, but the emotion stated in the texts, such as "Last night I lost my baby," is a conventional sentiment rather than a hearfelt outpouring of grief; the singer is not really expressing anything personal, just supplying a rhythmic vehicle with an infectious swing for dancing.
Blues in the first category are now relatively rare, except in LPs for sophisticated city aficionados.  Smoky, who drank in the blues with his mother's milk, is equally at home in either type.  More readily, it seems, than he can talk, he can improvise autobiographical blues, even making most of the lines rhyme.  At other times, as the mood hits him, he sings songs which are essentially impersonal.  In either type, despite a rough and poverty-stricken life, he is full of high exuberance, a joy in life, which he expresses in his dance-provoking style.  Although several of the blues on this record are sad in text, the overall effect of his performing is a vivid communication of his basic philosophy that even under the most squalid and depressing circumstances, life is very much worth living."

Quite apart from being beautifully written, I think the points Dr. Oster is making here are right on, in terms of the sense of blues lyrics, the degree to which they are necessarily "sad" or "complaining" and the extent to which they are most often particularly personal to the person singing them.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #18 on: July 16, 2008, 11:46:39 AM »
Hi all,
Despite this thread not having been posted to in some time, I think the issues it raises are still interesting.  There are a couple of paragraphs that Dr. Harry Oster wrote in his notes to the Prestige Bluesville Smoky Babe album, "Hottest Brand Goin'", that I've intended to post here for some time.  I finally remembered and had access to the notes so here goes.  This was written around 1961 I believe, but Stefan Wirz could probably give us an exact release date for the record.
Stefan's Smokey Babe discography gives 1963 release. He also kindly supplies us with the sleeve notes to read. The recordings on the LP are selected from sessions between Feb. 1959 and June 1961. http://www.wirz.de/music/smokyfrm.htm

Offline dj

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #19 on: July 16, 2008, 04:11:11 PM »
Quote
...the emotion stated in the texts, such as "Last night I lost my baby," is a conventional sentiment rather than a heartfelt outpouring of grief...

I've been reading Paul Oliver's Blues Fell this Morning and Screening the Blues this summer.  Both books analyze blues lyrics to shed light on different aspects of african american life in the 1920s - 1940s.  Oliver's lyric discussions have lead me to understand something that should have been obvious to me from early on, but which I'm slightly embarrassed to say I've only now understood: All vocal music operates within a lyric "idiom", a set of conventions that defines what topics will be sung about and what words and phrases will and will not be used.  This is true for every style of music that one might care to examine.  Lyricists certainly generate songs that have meaning to themselves and for their audiences, but these songs are usually generated from topics within the set of conventions and don't necessarily reflect personally on the lyricist.  None of us would assume that the Beatles from 1962 - 1964 were constantly deliriously in love, yet that is what one would think from a close analysis of their lyrics.  Nor, despite their attempts at "street cred", have all hip hop artists been gangstas, nor all honky tonk country singers drunkards who are regularly in jail.  And neither does the majority of their audience find themselves in these sets of situations.  The lyric conventions merely provide a set of mutually understood story lines that resonate with the audience at a given time and in a given place.  So the meaning of a lyric is often a cultural meaning rather than a personal one.     

I'm not denying that there is self expression in lyrics, just that it usually takes place on a set of topics that is understood by both the audience and musicians to be acceptable for the particular style, using words and phrases that are similarly informally "codified".

Nor am I in any way suggesting that there aren't artists in every style who push at the boundaries and transcend these conventions.  There most certainly are. 

I have a nagging suspicion that what I've just said is painfully obvious to everyone but me.  But I'm feeling just a bit excited at finally discovering this. 
           

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #20 on: July 28, 2008, 10:53:46 AM »
A blues song is to me a story.  I think of it this way:  the singer may begin relating something that happened to him or her with a lover.  They may sing several lines or verses that are "autobiographical" -- i.e. something that happened during the relationship.  I've just been listening to a lot of Lonnie Johnson so I will quote this master blues lyricist:

"When I first met you baby your bare feet was pattin' the ground
While I was out slavin' for you, you was chasin' every rat in town."

Then the singer may sing a line or verse that expresses an emotion about the relationship. In this case:

"Give me those clothes I bought you, take my diamonds off your hand
Now you're just like I found you, go back to your handy man."

Depending on the song or the singer, either type of expression may be emphasized.  Some songs may be entirely "emotional" verses.  The actions described in these verses -- like in the above verse or a singer saying he or she is going to shoot somebody -- may not be something the singer would actually do -- it's just a way of stating a strong feeling at that moment.

Hope that makes sense.  This tends to be how I approach making up a blues song, even if I am drawing from "floating verses."
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #21 on: July 29, 2008, 11:54:33 AM »
Sounds. I guess thats what I look for in lyrics more and more. Increasingly the sound of the lyrics has become more significant than the content except in the case of lyricists of rare talent like Bukka White, BLJ, and a handful of others.
The two can coexist nicely of course as in the people I mentioned but Sleepy John Estes could sing the phone book and make it sound important and musical.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #22 on: July 31, 2008, 05:20:47 AM »
Sleepy John Estes could sing the phone book and make it sound important and musical.

And sometimes nearly does.  "This week in Brownsville ..."

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #23 on: September 21, 2012, 09:11:22 PM »
Time to get back to this discussion. Maybe it says more about how hung-up we are these days that we find it it so hard to step out of our 21st century sensibilities and sing outrageous stories and lines that are basically and completely untrue but nonetheless make a good yarn and/or crack people up.

Ari Eisinger's performances impressed me recently. I watched him sing all the controversial stuff with a half smile and no apologies. I think that reflects an understanding that this is poetry and entertainment, not polemic, and that gives you a huge amount of freedom.

From a local perspective I had to brief my wife early on in our relationship, "this is just a song, it's not about you, ok?" Since then we've been able to play just about anything together.

John Jackson is another example, the nicest person you could ever meet but who would trot out some pretty outrageous lyrics. We tend to take ourselves too literally perhaps. This is particularly true for non-professionals like many of us on here.

Maybe we should develop a 'remedial song list'. Controversial songs that you should be able to deliver without apologizing.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2012, 09:23:54 PM by Rivers »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues Lyrics--What Do You Hear?
« Reply #24 on: September 23, 2012, 04:10:29 PM »
Hi all,
It occurs to me that what you hear in blues lyrics is not only an issue of the lyrics themselves, but who is singing them.  If you hear a verse sung by a singer who is disengaged with the lyric and thinking of something else while singing it, the verse may make no impression, while the same verse delivered by a different singer who is fully engaged in the singing of it may grab you and really stick with you.  It has been remarked on elsewhere in this forum the capacity of certain singers (Lightnin' Hopkins, Texas Alexander, and Tommy McClennan come to mind) to sing commonly encountered verses and manage to make the content of these verses seem profound and singular and as though they are being sung to you in particular.  Is the lyric in question a great lyric?  Maybe so or maybe not, but the singing is great singing.
All best,
Johnm

 


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