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Blue Tuesday

I've been a fan of the blues for years (since I'm a native of the Chicago region), and I've been taking lessons to learn how to play Depression-era Country Blues for a little over two years now.

Recently, I've started working on song writing-not on creating songs that feel new, but just the opposite-on creating blues songs that feel "old world" and authentic. So far, my success has been middle of the road, because I tend to allow references or verbal constructs of the "modern world" to creep into the lyrics.

That being said, the process of writing blues lyrics-just good, simple 12-bar blues lyrics, is a great creative exercise. Old-school 12-bar blues are built on the "call and response" approach.

A verse is a "call"-around seven-fourteen syllables (about two measures) long, which is then followed by two measures of musical "response", and then we repeat it again-finally, we have a verbal "response" to the line, and then the turnaround.

It's wonderfully simple-only two unique lines make a verse (the first repeated twice), and often a song will only be five verses long (often with 12 bars of instrumental after the third verse).

Here are a couple of examples:

Went down to the station, I leaned against the door.
Went down to the station, I leaned against the door.
I know that Empire State, can tell by the way she blows.

I'm gonna write a letter, telephone every town I know
I'm gonna write a letter, telephone every town I know
If I don't find her in Mississippi, she'll be in East Monroe I know

Some of the trickier song stylists of the day would vary the second repeat line, but they'd use tricks like alliteration to keep it "feeling" like it was a repeat line, while it was actually giving more information. For example:

In his mailbox sits a letter, but it's not the only one
In his mailbox a long gray letter, but not the only one
You may already be a winner...you may already have won

The challenge is to craft something with actual meaning in just about ten unique lines. Some of the great old blues songs tell epic tales in even fewer lines. Give a listen to some classic blues (pre WWII) and then see if you can craft something authentic feeling yourself-it's a great context exercise and can be a much more accessible way to connect yourself to language creativity (as opposed to more formalized approaches like poetry or fiction writing).