Monday, January 4, 2010
Happy Monday, folks: here we are with the return of the Monday Morning Blues—appropriate, perhaps, with the holiday season winding down. Here’s hoping you aren’t afflicted with too big a case of those Monday blues!
Today’s song is another one by Willie Brown, best known for his appearance in Robert Johnson’s song “Cross Road Blues,” & known also as a very talented “second guitar” who accompanied Charlie Patton & Son House. Brown did make a handful of solo recordings, however, & “Future Blues” was one of these songs. I should point out that my recording is in a different key & tuning than Brown used, so the riff I'm playing differs from his.
“Future Blues” is a mix of “floating lyrics” (phrases that repeat in a number of blues & other traditional songs) & some verses that are (as far as I know) unique to Brown’s composition. I’ve never heard either the first verse or the next to last (“See that picture up on your mother’s shelf”) in other tunes. This got me thinking about the “T for Texas, T for Tenessee” line in the final verse. This lyric is most commonly associated with the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, from his “Blue Yodel Number 1,” often referred to as “T for Texas.” Rodgers recorded “Blue Yodel Number 1” in 1928, while Brown recorded “Future Blues” in 1930. However, it’s very unclear what the “provenance” of the phrase may be. Blues singers would certainly have been familiar with Rodgers—he was a big star, & blues singers were not averse to adding “hillbilly” tunes to their repertoire—we know that such luminaries as Charlie Patton & Robert Johnson performed a lot of popular material in addition to their blues songs. On the other hand, Jimmie Rodgers himself never met a floating lyric he didn’t like—“Blue Yodel Number 1” contains such old standbys as “I’m going where the water drinks like cherry wine” & “Rather drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log.” A bit of cursory internet research about this question only turned up the fact that “Rodgers’ Blue Yodel songs, as well as a number of his other songs of a similar pattern, drew heavily on fragmentary and ephemeral song phrases from blues and folk traditions (called ‘floating lyrics’ or ‘maverick phrases’).” [quoted from Wikipedia]
Of course, in terms of traditional music, which was much less bound by ideas of originality or even copyright strictures than the current music industry, such a point is more a question of curiosity than anything else—the trove of “floating lyrics” gave blues singers & early “country” performers a wealth of material that they could shape to their individual needs & mold to their own musical & lyrical contexts.
Before moving on to the song, I would like to put in a plug for Citizen K’s post about the Who’s “Blue Red & Grey” on the Just a Song blog. The uke is near to my heart, & that’s one great ukulele tune, so please check it out once you're done here—especially the solo version by Pete Townsend, which is quite moving. In the meantime, hope you enjoy “Future Blues.”