How to Sing the Blues

Words copyright 1997, 2004 by Judith Podell and Joe Kesselman, based on the essay cited in the song (please see credits below).

Music copyright 1997, 2004 by Joe Kesselman: a 20-bar blues shuffle in D (8-bar blues verse, 12-bar blues chorus).

["Phrases marked like so"] are mostly spoken asides, though you should feel free to ad-lib them, or to scat as the mood strikes you.

Crawled out of bed this mornin' -- been depressed for quite some while
Then I found Ms. Podell's article, and I just had to smile 
  'cause she said:
"Next time you're feeling down, I think you'll want these clues
In just a few short steps I'll show you HOW TO SING THE BLUES"

	Singin' the blues is easy, once you've written your first line
	Yeah, twelve-bar blues is easy, once you've written
	    that sad first line ["It can be pretty sad, too, believe me."]
	You just sing it twice, then look for something
	    sadder that almost rhymes. ["Helps if it scans, too."]

A blues song shouldn't be about some thing that makes ya grin
"I got me a good woman" is a bad way to begin
Unless you follow it with something that'll bring ya right back down
Like: "Got me a good woman -- with the meanest dog in town"
	So I'm singin' 'bout my baby, she got the meanest dog in town.
	    ["Show you how this works, now... second time 'round:"]
	Yeah, I'm singin' 'bout my darlin; she got the
	    meanest dog in town:
	He got teeth like Maggie Thatcher and he weighs in
	    at about 500 pound. ["BIG son of a bitch."]

The Blues don't go with shopping malls, the lighting is all wrong:
Mauve and beige and violet leach the misery from your song.
They say "An office can't be Blue"; but I'll bet my bottom dollar
They never heard Stan Rogers leading The White-Collar Holler.
	When she sings the blues a lady is called Sadie or Big Mama,
	    sometimes Bess ["Bessie Smith's an example."]
	For the guys try Lightning Joe, or maybe Little Willie
	    might work best.
	    ["Don't think too much about what those names mean."]
	But if you're named Sierra or Sequoia, better
	    give the blues a rest. ["Can't feel low with a big name."]

The highway with nowhere to go, the jailhouse doin' time,
The empty bed -- (now) these are places that blues will sound just fine
Got better choices? Don't you try 'em; the Blues will never swing
In the Hamptons, Holt Renfrew, or a gallery opening
	You can be blue in New York City, not in Brooklyn or in Queens
	    ["That's what they say"]
	Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Looie are all bluesy kinds of scenes
	    ["They got that one right"]
	But Vermont and North Dakota people don't know
	    what blues really means
	["That's just seasonal affect disorder, son."]

To get you to a blues town, your car can't be compact
You need at least a Chevvy, or a rusty Cadillac
And if a Greyhound bus or Southbound freight train don't come by,
Well, you could take to walking, or just start fixin' in to die.
	Now, when a bluesman's gotta die he'll try to do it in some ratty
	    shotgun shack -- out by the railroad track
	Or he'll get some jealous lover, in a cheap motel, to stab him in
	    the back ["Big finish, now..."]
	If you die during liposuction, the world will know that
	    you were just a hack. ["You gotta die-it like you mean it."]

Oh, yeah...!

Please note that the permissions for this piece differ significantly from those of the other Songs of the Cat.

In early 1997, Judith Podell published an essay on How to Sing the Blues in Wordrights Magazine. Subsquently, and without her permission, someone transcribed it and began mailing it around the Internet. Some changes crept in during this process; for example, her opening example (the Post Graduate Blues, which she attributes to her character Memphis Earline Gray) got lost in transit.

When I saw it, I couldn't resist the temptation to return it to its roots, and rearranged and reworked the material into a 20-bar blues. None the less, the original essay was copyrighted material and remains Ms. Podell's intellectual property, and my lyrics are very definitely a Derivitive Work. Thus, any use of them requires her permission as well as my own.

Judith has very graciously agreed to treat these lyrics as falling under a 50/50 joint copyright, and to allow non-commercial reproduction and performance IF she is properly credited in each instance.

Rights to the tune remain with Joe Kesselman.

Hence the following policy:

Permission is granted to reproduce, and perform, these lyrics for non-profit purposes only. Authorship information and this message must be included in any reproduction, and Joe and Judith must be given credit at time of performance.

Reproduction and performance of the music, independent of the lyrics, is likewise granted for non-profit purposes only. (In other words: yes, filkers may borrow it.)

Your cooperation is greatly appreciated. Should other permissions be desired, contact Joe, and he will liaise with Ms. Podell.

More Songs of the Cat
The Caterwaul / Joe Kesselman / (sic!)