Is it the Blues?

What defines a blues song? It’s hard to say, and generally these sorts of questions are best left alone. To define and categorize and “genre-ize” something which is by its very nature uncategorizable is clearly not a good time management practice. However a recent blog comment got me to thinking…… (Oh oh, here we go. Hang on to your hat!)

The 12-bar blues and some other simple chord progressions are clearly prominent in any definition of the blues. And sadness/that “blue” feeling, and major key are also identifying characteristics. But, as I was saying, all attempts to define the blues usually run aground somewhere between ragtime, rock&roll, and Culver City. Duke Ellington said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’. And to further elucidate, “Doo-wah, doo-wah doo-wah, doo-wah doo-wah”!

I was playing these songs the other day. All three bend the definition of blues a bit. Actually they bend the definition a lot. I suppose they are blueses because……..well, because of their names?

Worried Man Blues is a country/bluegrass song.

Salty Dog Blues is a ragtime-progression bluegrass song.

And finally, The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me is a ragtime/jug band song. Click on the arrows to hear these (non-blues?) blueses. (Huh?)

I heard The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me many years ago on a vinyl Jim Kweskin record. Written in 1919 by Carey Morgan, Arthur Swanson, and Charles McCarron, it’s been done by Kweskin, Bing Crosby, John Denver, Ted Lewis, Nate Oliver, Sidney Bechet, and many others. The lyrics are just the greatest. They don’t make lyrics like this anymore. I apologize if I didn’t get all the lyrics correctly, but since I wanted to get this post out sometime during the present decade I posted it anyway. The songs are worth hearing even if they’re not perfect. Just to introduce them. Also to confuse everybody as to the definition of the blues, if you forgot about that. Plus, they’re fun songs to tap your feet to, and to sing. By the way, the (original) 1919 Esther Walker recording is terrific. Sidney Bechet’s version of the song is worth checking out of course. Ditto the great Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band.

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