Blues lyric poetry: an anthology


Michael Taft

(New York. Garland. 1983)


This computer-generated anthology serves two main purposes. First, it is a companion piece to Blues Lyric Poetry: A Concordance (Taft, Blues), and thus gives the user of that concordance the complete poetic context for every word, phrase, or line in which he is interested. Second, this anthology makes available to the reader a large and varied selection of blues lyrics which have either never appeared in print before, or which are scattered among smaller anthologies and blues studies. All of the texts transcribed here are from the 1920 to 1942 period - the race record era - and comprise over two thousand commercially recorded songs sung by over three hundred and fifty singers.

Other than the fact that all these singers were black and sang the blues, there are few other common factors in their make-up: their backgrounds, repertoires, styles, and reasons for recording vary greatly. Thus, this anthology includes both country and urban, both male and female, both "downhome" (to use Titon's term) and vaudeville singers. Among those represented here are singers who recorded only one or two songs and those who recorded over a hundred; those who sang accompanied only by their own guitar or piano, and those who were a part of a string band, jug band, or jazz band. As a whole, this anthology is an exploration of the blues lyric and, more specifically, the blues couplet, which defines this lyric form.


The blues, as a form of folk and popular song, demands a clear definition, since the word "blues" itself has generally been used to cover a wide range of both musical and lyric forms. Since this work concentrates upon the lyrics rather than the music of the song form, my inclusion or exclusion of texts in this anthology was based on lyric poetic criteria. Indeed there are both etic and emic reasons for defining the blues primarily as

poetry and only secondarily as music. Charles Keil (51) and John Szwed (222) have both seen the blues as primarily a poetic form, and ex-blues singer Rubin Lacy agrees: "the blues is not sung for the tune. It's sung for the words mostly. A real blues singer sings a blues for the words" (Evans 13). Thus, the definition often given of the blues as an eight-, twelve-, or sixteen-bar form of song is not relevant to this study. In fact, this criterion has been overused and overstated in the discussion of the blues form, since the blues rarely conforms to a tight metric structure. Early in the history of blues scholarship, Odum and Johnson discovered this disjoint relationship between blues lyrics and blues music (291), and more recently, Jean Wagner has examined the same phenomenon: "a more or less indefinite number of unaccentuated syllables can be put between the stresses, which makes a blues verse quite lengthy, so that it can be represented typographically in two lines of equal or unequal length" (from Les poètes nègres des Etats-Unis, translated in Jahn 167).


To define the structure of the blues stanza is to define the blues itself. As Newman I. White wrote, "the stanza, and not the song, is the only true unit" in the blues ("White Man" 207), and most scholars since his time have tended to agree with this general premise (for example, see Charters 4, Ferris 34, and Hyman 306). But what is the nature of the blues stanza? Again, since the beginnings of blues scholarship, there has been general agreement that the structure of the stanza is a couplet with the first line repeated twice; but this definition is somewhat off the mark. Niles (2) and White (American 387-88) were among the first to recognize that the repetiton of lines is variable in the blues, although the commonest stanzaic form is the one described above. This three-line form is so common, in fact, that even if it is not the best criterion for definition, it is very much the trademark of the blues. Thus, blues singer Leonard Caston's definition is no different from the definitions of most blues scholars:


In the blues they'd be making these recordings, you're playing the twelve-bar blues, you have to do these things in order for maybe whomsoever listen to this particular thing wouldn't hear it the first thing you said. So you would repeat it so you make sure you get the first thing. And so they would add the rhyming thing at the end. So this would make you do your first line two times and your rhyme would come after. Well this got to be the thing where people listening would expect that; so they still do. So in order to get things across they would do it. (Titon, ed. 24)


Virtually all scholars and singers agree that the lines in the blues stanza should rhyme, although the exact nature of the blues rhyme is more complex than it first appears (see Taft, "Willie" for an extended discussion of this subject). But there is another major stanzaic criterion which, if more subtle, is nevertheless as important as rhyme in defining the blues: the caesura which separates each line into two half-lines. Odum and Johnson were perhaps the first to describe this caesura (267) and three years later, Milton Metfessel actually timed the duration of these half-line breaks in hun­dredths of a second:


Take me back daddy [.62] try me one mo' time [.47]

Ef I doan do to suit you [.29] I'll break my back-bone tryin' (109-10)


More recently Jeff Todd Titon has explored the nature of the caesura from a musi­cological point of view (Titon 142-43).

The most general definition of the blues stanza, then, is that it is a rhymed couplet in which each line is divided by a caesura. Perhaps one final characteristic is that in most cases there is no enjambment from one line to the next in the stanza; that is, each line is end-stopped. Oster compared the blues stanza to the heroic couplet (70), but of course the blues couplet lacks the strong metrical demand of the heroic couplet. In terms of theme or content of the stanza, perhaps the only generalization to be made is that the blues couplet is a secular rather than a sacred form of poetry and that it describes everyday life. The predominant theme is love and indeed the blues can be described as love poetry or erotic poetry, although some songs (and certainly many individual couplets) are concerned with drink, poverty, war, dancing, eating, horse racing, and countless other common subjects.


What are some of the variations upon this basic blues couplet? The most common type of variation is in the number of repetitions of either the first, the last, or both lines in the couplet. If we represent the basic blues couplet as AA we can readily see the kinds of repetitions which occur in the blues. As already mentioned, the most common form of repetition is 2AA:


I'm flying to South Carolina : I got to get there this time

I'm flying to South Carolina : I got to get there this time                    

Women in Dallas Texas : is about to make me lose my mind

(Blind Lemon Jefferson, Long Distance Moan)


However, the simple, unembellished AA couplet is also quite frequent:


Good Lord good Lord : send me an angel down

Can't spare you no angel : will spare you a teasing brown

(Blind Willie McTell, Ticket Agent Blues)


It is the first line of the couplet which is most often repeated, but not necessarily just twice. Note the following 3AA form:


If you want a good woman : get one long and tall

If you want a good woman : get one long and tall

If you want a good woman : get one long and tall

When she go to loving : she make a panther squall

(Wiley Barner, If You Want a Good Woman – Get One Long and Tall)                          


But the second line of the couplet is also capable of being repeated, as in this A2A example:


I tell you girls : and I'm going to tell you now

If you don't want me : please don't dog me around

If you don't want me: please don't dog me around

(Robert Wilkins, Alabama Blues)


A singer might opt for a 2A2A stanza, but more commonly, he chose to repeat the entire couplet twice in a 2(AA) structure:


Well I solemnly swear : Lord I raise my right hand 

That I'm going to get me a woman : you get you another man

I solemnly swear : Lord I raise my right hand

That I'm going to get me a woman babe : you get you another man

(Son House, My Black Mama – Part 2)


Theoretically any combination of repetitions is possible - 4AA, 2A3A, 3(AA), 2(2AA), etc.- but the above forms account for nearly all the variations in repetition found in this corpus of the blues.

However, a large number of blues songs employ a type of variation which is not based on repetition; rather these couplets are embellished with a refrain. The refrain may be a short tag-line or a multi-line verse, but it does not have to conform to the blues couplet structure in any way. Note the following examples:


You say you done quit me : now what should I do

Can't make up my mind : to love no one but you


I don't like that

No I don't

I don't like that

No I don't

You know it kill me dead

I don't like that

(Barefoot Bill, I Don’t Like That)




Look here woman : making me mad

Done bringing me something : somebody done had


Carry it right back home

I don't want it no more

(Ed Bell, Carry It Right Back Home)


Both examples might be represented as AAr couplets, but a more complex stanzaic form combines both repetition and a refrain. Note the following 2AAr couplet:


I went down in the alley : trying to sell my coke today

I went down in the alley : trying to sell my coke today

And a woman run out and hollered : scared my mule away


She wanted to boodlie-bum-bum

She hollered boodlie-bum-bum

Oh boodlie-bum boodlie-bum boodlie-bum-bum

(Blind Bogus Ben Covington, Boodle-De-Bum-Bum)


To add further complexity to blues poetry, the refrain itself might also take the stanzaic form of the blues couplet. Thus, the following two examples represent AAr:AA and AAr:2AA stanzaic forms, respectively:


Early one morning : just about half past three

You done something : that's really worrying me


Come on baby : take a little walk with me

Back to the same old place : where we long to be

(Robert Lockwood, Take a Little Walk with Me)


I got a gal : she got a Rolls Royce

She didn't get it all : by using her voice


I'm wild about my tuni : only thing I crave

I'm wild about my tuni : only thing I crave

Well sweet patuni : going to carry me to my grave

(Willie Baker, Sweet Patunia Blues)


Just as the refrain might manifest itself in a number of different forms which bear little or no resemblance to the structure of the blues couplet, the couplet itself may become a refrain, chorus, or blues-like interjection in a basically non-blues song. This phenomenon most often occurs in the songs of female vaudeville singers which, though blues-like in many ways, do not conform to the poetic criteria of the blues. In the following song by Trixie Smith the first stanza exhibits a non-blues ABAB structure; the second stanza is ABBA; and the third stanza, although AA in structure, has no caesuras in its lines. Only the last two stanzas are blues couplets:


Now some folks long to have a-plenty money

Some will want their wine and song

But all I want is my sweet loving honey

I cry about him all night long


Once I had a dear sweet daddy but I didn't treat him right

So he left town

With Mandy Brown

That is why I'm blue tonight


So I'm leaving here today

When I find him he will say


Please come back and love me like you used to do : I think about you every day

You reap just what you sow in the sweet bye and bye : and be sorry that you went away


Oh baby I'm crazy : almost dead

I wish I had you here : to hold my aching head

(Trixie Smith, Love Me Like You Used To)



In this song there is a definite instrumental and vocal break as Smith shifts into a blues texture. The last line of the third stanza, "When I find him he will say," acts as an introduction to the blues stanzas which follow. Titon has pointed out that such semi­-blues were typical Tin Pan Alley, vaudeville songs in which the composers consciously embedded the blues form within a larger framework and often marked the blues section of the song "tempo di blues" on the published sheet music (Titon xvi).


In addition to repetitions, refrains, and "embedding," there were some stylistic devices which singers employed to vary the structure of the individual line or to make one repetition of the line different from the next. Perhaps the most common device of this sort is what might be termed "staggering," in which the singer would repeat parts of a line or a half-line in an incremental fashion. Note the following 3AA couplet:


When you hear me walking : turn your lamp down, turn your lamp down, lamp down low

When you hear me walking : turn your lamp down low

When you hear me walking : turn your lamp down low

Then turn it so : your man'll never know

(Bobby Grant, Nappy Head Blues)


On rare occasions, the singer might sing only a partial blues stanza; that is, there would be no rhyming line to complete the couplet. These partial stanzas could take any number of forms, depending upon the repetitions and refrains which the singer used: A, 2A, 3A, Ar, 2Ar:AA, and so on. In theory, these partial stanzas should not be considered blues couplets at all, but they generally occur within the context of a song where the other stanzas conform to the texture of blues poetry. Rather than being “embedded" non-blues stanzas in a blues song, these stanzas seem to be "implied couplets" in which the singer and listener agree to break the rules in a song. Perhaps indicative of the fact that these half-couplets are a part of the blues poetic form is that they occur, not in the vaudeville compositions, but  rather in the more conservative, downhome blues.


The combinations possible within the confines of the simple stanza are many. Add to this the possible combinations of stanzaic types within the same song and the varieties inherent to the texture of the blues become truly astounding. However, the blues singers were rather conservative; many possible combinations never appear in the blues. This conservative tendency is especially clear when one considers that perhaps 80 percent of all blues songs follow the classic 2AA pattern.


Both this anthology and the concordance grew out of a detailed study of the structural and formulaic properties of the half-line and line in the blues couplet (Taft, "Lyrics"). As a reflection of this type of analysis, I have stripped down the transcriptions of these blues texts to their basic couplets.Thus, all repetitions, all refrains which do not conform to the blues couplet structure, and all non-blues stanzas in the vaudeville songs, as well as any spoken interjections or other extrastanzaic elements in the songs have been left out of these transcriptions. Where a refrain does conform to blues couplet structure, I have transcribed it, but only once, no matter how many times that refrain occurs in the song. I transcribed staggered lines only if there was no unstaggered repetition of that line in the stanza.


Admittedly such transcriptions are not as useful as full verbatim texts, but the choice of stripped-down songs was necessary for the type of computerized study from which these works grew. Thus, as stated at the beginning of the preface, this anthology is more a study of the blues couplet than the blues song. If there is a rationale beyond expediency for this choice of transcription, it is that the blues is an extremely fluid song form: indeed, as pointed out by several recent scholars, the blues is a prime example of formulaic poetry in which neither lines nor half-lines nor stanzas are set, invariable structures (see Barnie, both articles, Taft, "Lyrics," and Titon 178-93). In effect, there is one great blues song from which all the actual blues texts arose. Thus, the floating couplet is the essence of blues poetry and all else is embellishment upon this form.


Of course these texts are stripped down in other ways. I have not attempted musical transcriptions of the tunes, even though the entire song form is an amalgamation of music and poetry. Nor have I attempted to account for stress patterns, intensity of speech, voice quality (such as falsetto), elision, duration, or emphasis in the singing. Indeed no transcription gives a complete version of a text; there must always be compromises based on expediency, clarity, and the intended purpose of the transcrip­tion. For the complete version of a text, the reader must listen to the recording; and even then the performance is incomplete, since the actions of the singer in the recording studio were not recorded along with his music and words. However, for every text in this anthology there is relatively easy access to the recording, since all the songs transcribed are available on one or more reissue, long-playing albums (see the Discography). Ideally, the reader can listen to the songs with this anthology in hand and make notes on the transcriptions in order to fill in the gaps inherent in these stripped-down versions.


The method of transcription was the same for all texts in this book. The album was first recorded onto tape and then the tape was played on a transcribing machine, so that difficult passages could be replayed any number of times, speeded up or slowed down, in order to acquire the most accurate transcriptions possible. I used other people's transcriptions only after attempting my own version of a song and then only to verify or clear up those passages which were either questionable or impossible to decipher. There were, of course, many occasions when I could not be sure of what the singer was singing or when I had no idea whatsoever. Worn and scratchy recordings, unfamiliar dialects, dated speech, the slurring of sung words, the interference of the music, and my own idiosyncratic conceptions of the blues lyric all contributed to the inaccuracies in this anthology. As well, since I did these transcriptions over a six-year period (1971-1977) in a fairly random fashion as I acquired more and more albums, my ability to understand the words became increasingly sophisticated as time went on. Unfortunately, this means that my earlier transcriptions are probably less accurate than my later ones.

Where I have been unable to decipher a passage, I have placed three question marks (???), as in the following example:


And nobody shake it : like papa ??? can

(Mae Glover, Shake It Daddy)


This symbol in no way indicates the length of the untranscribable passage, but on occasion I have modified the symbol if I think that I hear a word-ending or syllable:


I'm down in the bottom : ???ing for Johnny Rye

(Huddie Ledbetter, Honey, I´m All Out and Down)


In total, there are 469 undecipherable passages out of approximately 20,000 lines of poetry. However, there are many more questionable passages; that is, some passages which I have transcribed can only be called educated guesses at what is being sung, either because of the peculiar wording of the passage or the almost inaudible nature of that part of the song. These passages are enclosed in asterisks (*...*) in the following manner:


Now my mama dead : so is my daddy too

*Should I caught the wire* : trying to get along with you

(Sam Butler, Poor Boy Blues)


Although I have not transcribed repetitions of lines, neither did I make composites of the repetitions. Rather, I generally chose the first singing of a repeated line, or if that line was staggered or in some sense incomplete, I chose the second or third repetition of the line for my transcription. In many cases, however, the repetitions of a line are not exact duplicates of one another - yet another kind of variation in blues poetry. Often a singer would change or leave out exclamations or evocative elements from one repeti­tion to the next (for example, oh or mama), change verb tenses, alter adverbial or adjectival modifications, or replace a noun with a pronoun. In all such cases in which the change in the repetitions seemed substantive - that is, where a part of the sentence structure or vocabulary was radically changed - I have noted these alterations in the transcription. For example, note the following 2AA stanza:


Nice to meet strangers :just to come and spend the day

Awful nice to meet strangers : just to come and spend the day

But that old-timey rider : can drive your blues away

(Clifford Gibson, Old Time Rider)


Here the word awful is inserted in the repetition of the first line. In the transcription, this line appears as "[Awful] nice to meet strangers : just to come and spend the day."


Where a word or phrase is exchanged for another in a repetition, both appear within brackets. Note the following example:


Tell me what time : do the trains come through your town

I want to know what time : do the trains come through your town

I want to laugh and talk : with a long-haired teasing brown

(Blind Lemon Jefferson, Black Horse Blues)


This variation is transcribed as "[Tell me, I want to know] what time : do the trains come through your town."


There is another variation, however, which is not reflected in these transcriptions. Although in most cases the caesura occurs at a convenient syntactic point in the line­ - between clauses, before a prepositional phrase, or after a nominal phrase - singers did not always follow this rule. The contingencies of the tune or simply artistic innovation sometimes place the caesura in other parts of the line; indeed sometimes the singer dispensed with the caesura altogether, usually in the second line of the couplet. In all cases, however, I have placed the symbol for the caesura, the colon (:), at the traditional syntactic point in the line, regardless of where the caesura actually falls. Again, this feature of the transcription is a reflection of the structural analysis for which this work was originally intended (Taft, "Lyrics"). In that analysis, I found that each syntactical coherent half-line corresponded to a potential formula in the poetry. By standardizing the placement of the caesura, these formulaic half-lines could be better visualized in the anthology and more importantly, in the concordance. Thus, although in the great majority of cases the colon corresponds to where the caesura actually occurs, this symbol

should be seen as a half-line marker or "ideal" caesura marker. There are a few cases in the corpus in which the singer seemed to substitute a musical break for either the first or second half-line; in these cases, the line either begins or ends with a colon.


Perhaps the most difficult decision to make in transcribing texts concerns dialect and pronunciation. How far should the transcriber go in trying to preserve the phonetic qualities of the singer? In earlier scholarship, blues transcribers tried to be faithful to the dialect (note Metfessel's attempt above), but these efforts usually resulted in transcrip­tions which were difficult to read, highly inaccurate, and rather insulting to the singer. What might be termed the "Uncle Remus" school of transcribing is a poor substitute for accurate phonetic transcription. But phonetic transcriptions are very difficult to read and, despite their firm bases in linguistics, they are still open to different interpretations by different readers.


For these reasons I have made no attempt to transcribe the singers' pronunciations of words. For example, regardless of whether the word going is pronounced goin', goan, or gwine, I have always transcribed it as going. However, I have not changed or standard­ized dialect words, morphemes, or syntactic features which are peculiar to a singer's speech. Thus, I's, a-crying, you be done lost your wife, drownded, and other nonstandard forms remain unaltered in these transcriptions. But there is an area between pronuncia­tion and other dialect features which called for arbitrary decisions. For example, what should be done with nonstandard contractions such as 'cause and ´fore? In the case of ´cause, I standardized all forms of the word to because, since such a contraction was not always easily distinguishable from its full form in the singing: the initial be- often seemed an unvoiced phonetic element rather than an absent element. The contraction ´fore, however, seems to have a separate and distinct usage from before in the blues, especially when part of the phrase 'fore day creep; therefore, I have retained this contraction in the transcriptions. Similarly , should gal be treated as a phonetic variation on girl or as a word in its own right? Because of its frequency and its rhyming qualities, I have chosen to retain gal as a separate word from girl. In all, I have tried to apply common sense to all such transcription problems.


I have avoided virtually all punctuation in these transcriptions, since periods at the ends of lines, semi-colons, commas, and quotation marks seemed unnecessary and often arbitrary. Although this might lead to certain ambiguities in the texts, I prefer that the reader supply his own sense of punctuation to these songs. This feature of the texts is also an outgrowth of the specific analysis and use of these songs in my earlier work (Taft, "Lyrics"); my aim was to produce clear, uncluttered texts.


The blues songs in this anthology are arranged according to singer and, under each singer, according to the chronological order of dates of recording and sequences in the recording sessions. At the beginning of every text is certain contextual information, as in the following example:


Name of singer                               Alexander, Texas

Title                                                  Long Lonesome Day Blues

Place and date                                New York, 11 Aug. 1927

Record numbers                             (81213-A) OK-8511 Rt RL-315


Name of singer

Where a song is attributed to a group in Godrich and Dixon, such as the Memphis Jug Band, I have listed the text under the name of the lead vocalist for the group, again as cited in Godrich and Dixon. In a few cases, the lead vocalist is not known; such texts have been placed under UnkA which stands for "unknown artist." In order to retrieve all songs sung by a band or group, refer to the Cross-Reference List of Groups. For example, see Big Bill Broonzy, song # 20 (State Street Boys).


The title of the song as given in Godrich and Dixon. Where Godrich and Dixon give more than one title for a song, I have noted only the first title which they list.

Place and date

Information on place and date of recording also comes from Godrich and Dixon, unless more accurate information was available from record notes.

Record numbers

The line marked "record numbers" contains four pieces of information. First, the matrix or master number of the recording is given in parentheses. This number pinpoints the location and sequence in the daily recording sessions of the record companies and is important in identifying the relationship of the song to the entire output of the race record era. In the above example, the master number is 81213. Within the parentheses following this number is the take number or letter which indicates which version of the song sung in the recording studio has been transcribed. Thus, this was the first (and perhaps only) version of the song recorded by Alexander. Note however that the first and second songs by Luke Jordan are different versions of the same song sung by Luke Jordan and recorded in succession; they have the same master number, 39819, but different take numbers, 1 and 2. All master and take numbers are from Godrich and Dixon unless more accurate information was available from record notes (as was the case with the first songs by Luke Jordan).

The next information on this line is the original catalogue number for the 78 rpm recording of the text. The letters before the dash are an abbreviation for the record company or label on which the song was recorded (see Abbreviations for Race Record Labels) and the alphanumeric designation after the dash is the catalogue number. Customers and store owners used this number for ordering records and the record companies kept track of their inventories through this numbering system. Because nearly all of the race records were two-sided discs, two songs share the same catalogue number. See the first and second songs by Garfield Akers for an example of a shared catalogue number on the Vocalion label, Vo-1442. Where a song was issued on two or more race record labels, I have indicated only the first label and catalogue number listed in Godrich and Dixon. In some cases, the recording was never issued but remained a test pressing or a master in the possession of the record company. Where such songs have been recorded on more recent long-playing albums, their catalogue number is replaced by the word "unissued." See the first song by Luke Jordan for an example. Again, Godrich and Dixon has been the major source for this information.

The final information on this line is the label and catalogue number of the long-­playing album from which the song was transcribed. The label either appears as a separate two or three-letter abbreviation followed by an alphanumeric catalogue desig­nation, or, where the catalogue designation contains no letters, as an abbreviation attached by a dash to the catalogue number. Thus, in the example above, Rt is the label, Roots, and RL-315 is the catalogue number for the album. Under the first song by Garfield Akers, however, the more simple OJL-2 refers to the Origin Jazz Library label, record number 2. For the code to long-playing album abbreviations, see the Discography and Abbreviations for Long-Playing Album Labels. Although some of these songs have been reissued on more than one album, the designated album is the one from which the song was transcribed.


The song couplets themselves are transcribed in the order in which they were sung. Where a blues couplet refrain appears throughout a song, its first appearance is noted in the text (for example, coming after the first AA couplet) and further repetitions have not been transcribed. However, if each repetition of the refrain shows substantive changes, each of these altered refrains has been transcribed.


In a few instances, a blues song is sung by two singers, each singing alternating stanzas or even sometimes alternating lines within the couplets. Following the general format of the anthology, those lines and stanzas sung by one singer are listed under her name, while those of the other singer are listed under his name. For example, note that Lonnie Johnson, song # 10 and Victoria Spivey, song # 7 are different parts of the same song.


The final section of this anthology is a line-concordance to the titles of the songs. Because of the fluid nature of blues titles, a simple alphabetical listing of titles seemed a less-than-useful exercise. However, one of the advantages of a computer­-generated anthology is that different text-reordering programs can be applied to the corpus with relative ease. Thus, a more useful index of titles is the one presented: a concordance which lists every word in the titles in alphabetical order and lists every instance of every word by the alphabetical and numerical order of the singer and song . For instance, if one wishes to know which songs have the word jail in their title, one simply looks up the word in the concordance-index. There one sees the head-word JAIL followed by the number of occurrences of the word among the two thousand song titles - in this case, eight. Reading down the list, one finds every instance in the same order as one would find if one laboriously read through the entire anthology: first Barefoot Bill, song # 3,, then Sam Collins, song # 1, then Joe Evans, song # 1, and so on. In order to save space, some insubstantive words such as a, and, and the have not been searched.


I am in debt to a number of people and institutions. I thank Neil V. Rosenberg for lending me records from his collection and for giving me his advice over the years. I also thank the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University for allowing me access to their record collection; and thanks as well to Frank Gillis, Director of the Archives for his encouragement and help. The computing centres at Memorial University of New­foundland and the University of Saskatchewan have been most cooperative, and I thank them. My greatest debt is to Dr. Michael J. Preston, Director of the Center for Computer Research in the Humanities at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a good friend and colleague, who kept me on track and who played an essential part in the alchemy which turned a jumble of transcriptions into an anthology.


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Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1928.
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- ” - The Lyrics of Race Record Blues, 1920-1942: A Semantic Approach to the Structural Analysis of a Formulaic System. Diss. Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland, 1977.
- ” - "Willie McTell's Rules of Rhyme: A Brief Excursion into Blues Phonetics." Southern Folklore Quarterly 42 (1978), 53-71.
Titon, Jeff Todd. Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1977.
- ” - , ed From Blues to Pop: The Autobiography of Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston. JEMF Special Series, no. 4. Los Angeles: John Edwards Memorial Foundation, 1974.
White, Newman I. American Negro Folk-Songs. 1928; rpt. Hatboro, Pa.: Folklore Associates, 1965.
- ” - "The White Man in the Woodpile: Some Influences on Negro Secular Folk-Songs." American Speech 4 (1928-29), 207-15.




This discography lists all long-playing albums from which the texts were taken. All albums are twelve-inch,

33 1/3 rpm phonodiscs. Unless otherwise noted, each citation refers to one, double-sided phonodisc. Albums are listed alphabetically according to label and numerically according to catalogue number. Where place and date of record­ing are noted on the album, this information is included in the listing.


Ace of Hearts

AH-77 The Harlem Hamfats. London, 1964.

AH-158 Out Came the Blues: Vol. 2. London, 1967.



BLP-12000 Blind Lemon Jefferson, 1926-1929. New York.

BLP-12001 Blues the World Forgot: Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Jazz Band, 1924-28. New York.

BLP-12003 Bootleg Rum Dum Blues: Blind Blake, 1926-1930. New York.

BLP-12004 Ramblin' Mind Blues: Ramblin' Thomas, 1928. New York.

BLP-12013 Early Leadbelly, 1935-1940: Narrated by Woody Guthrie. New York, 1969.

BLP-12015 Master of the Blues: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Vol. 2: 1926-1929. New York, 1969.

BLP-12022 Ethel Waters, "Oh Daddy." New York.

BLP-12023 Search Warrant Blues: Blind Blake, 1926-1932. New York.

BLP-12029 Skip James: King of the Delta Blues Singers, 1928-1964. Canaan, N.Y.

BLP-12031 No Dough Blues, Vol. 3: Blind Blake, 1926-1929. Canaan, N.Y.

BLP-12037 Rope Stretchin' Blues: Blind Blake, Vol. 4, 1926-31. Canaan, N.Y., 1972.

BLP-12041 Mississippi & Beale Street Sheiks, 1927-1932. Canaan, N.Y., 1972.

BLP-12042 Papa Charlie Jackson, 1925-1928. Canaan, N.Y., 1972.

BLP-C4 Mississippi John Hurt, 1928: His First Recordings. Canaan, N.Y., 1972.

BLP-C6 Mr. Armstrong Plays the Blues: Featuring Louis Armstrong, 1925-1927. Canaan, N.Y., 1973.

BLP-C9 Leroy Carr: Singin' the Blues, 1934. Canaan, N.Y., 1972.


Blues Classics

BC-1 Blues Classics by Memphis Minnie.

BC-2 Blues Classics by the Jug, Jook and Washboard Bands. Berkeley.

BC-3 Blues Classics by Sonny Boy Williamson.

BC-4 Peetie Wheatstraw and Kokomo Arnold.

BC-5 Country Blues Classics, Volume 1.

BC-6 Country Blues Classics, Volume 2.

BC-7 Country Blues Classics, Volume 3.

BC-10 Blues Classics by Washboard Sam.

BC-11 Blind Boy Fuller with Sonny Terry and Bull City Red.

BC-13 Memphis Minnie, Vol. 2: With Kansas Joe, 1930-31. Berkeley.

BC-14 Country Blues Classics, Volume 4. Berkeley.

BC-20 Blues Classics by Sonny Boy Williamson, Volume 2. Berkeley.

BC-21 Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson. Berkeley.



Br-87.504 Bad Luck Blues: Une anthologie du blues. Paris



529.073 Ida Cox. Archive of Jazz, Vol. 23. France

529.078 Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. Archive of Jazz, Vol. 28. France.


Collector's Classics

CC-3 The Male Blues Singers, Vol. 1.

CC-25 Kokomo Arnold. Masters of the Blues, Vol. 4.

CC-29 Trixie Smith. Masters of the Blues, Vol. 5.

CC-30 Lonnie Johnson. Masters of the Blues, Vol. 6.

CC-32 Louis Armstrong: The Blues Singers. Masters of the Blues, Vol. 8.

CC-33 Little Brother Montgomery. Masters of the Blues, Vol. 9.

CC-36 Barbecue Bob. Masters of the Blues, Vol. 10.

CC-37 Gut Bucket Trombone: Ike Rodgers. Masters of the Blues, Vol. 11.


C-30034 Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Volume II.

C-30035 Leadbelly.

C-30036 Bukka White: Parchman Farm. New York.

C-30496 Blues Before Sunrise: Leroy Carr, Piano and Vocal. New York.

CL-855 The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. I.

CL-856 The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. II.

CL-857 The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. III.

CL-858 The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. IV

CL-1654 Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers.



CP-58 Out Came the Blues. London, 1970.



LP-103 Goin' Away Walking: Various Artists. Weybridge, U.K.



FA-2951 Anthology of American Folk Music: Volume One: Ballads. New York, 1952. 2 phonodiscs.

FA-2953 Anthology of American Folk Music: Volume Three: Songs. New York, 1952. 2 phonodiscs.

FJ-2801 Jazz, Vol. 1: South. New York, 1950.

FJ-2802 Jazz, Vol. 2: The Blues. New York, 1950.



H-201 Sic 'Em Dogs on Me, 1927 to 1939. Glen Cove, N.Y.

H-205 Fillin' in Blues, 1928-1930. Glen Cove, N.Y.

H-208 Cannon's Jug Stompers. New York, 1973. 2 phonodiscs.


Historical Records

HLP-1 Rare Blues of the Twenties, No. 1. New York, 1966.

HLP-2 Rare Blues of the Twenties. Jersey City, N.J.

HLP-4 Rare Blues, 1927-1935. Jersey City, N.J.

HLP-5 Rare Blues, 1927-1930. Jersey City, N.J.

HLP-15 Pot Hound Blues, 1923-1930. Jersey City, N.J.

HLP-17 They Sang the Blues, Vol. 1 (1927-1929). Jersey City, N.J.

HLP-21 Anna Bell, Katherine Henderson, Laura Bryant. Acc. by Clarence Williams' Orchestra,

1928-1929. Jersey City, N.J.

HLP-22 They Sang the Blues, 1927-1934. Jersey City, N.J.

HLP-31 Masters of the Blues, 1928-1940. Jersey City, N.J., 1969.

HLP-32 I'm Wild About My Lovin', 1928-1930. Jersey City, N.J., 1969.

HLP-8002 Early Country Music. Jersey City.



SM-3098 Great Blues Singers. La storia del jazz. Milano, 1971.

SM-3104 The Jug Bands: Memphis Jug Band 1929-1934. La storia del jazz. Milano, 1971.



S-3802 Mississippi Bottom Blues.

S-3803 Low Down Memphis Barrelhouse Blues (1928-1935). New York.

S-3804 Stop and Listen Blues: The Mississippi Sheiks. New York.



MLP-7324 The Party Blues. Washington, D.C.



MLP-2001 The Immortal Ma Rainey. New York, 1966.

MLP-2004 The Immortal Blind Lemon Jefferson. New York, 1967.

MLP-2007 Blind Lemon Jefferson, Volume Two. New York, 1968.

MLP-2013 Black Snake Moan: Blind Lemon Jefferson. New York, 1970.

MLP-2018 Pitchin' Boogie: A Second Collection of Boogie Woogie Rarities. New York, 1971.


Origin Jazz Library

OJL-2 Really! The Country Blues. New York.

OJL-3 Henry Thomas Sings the Texas Blues.

OJL-4 The Great Jug Bands. Berkeley.

OJL-5 The Mississippi Blues 1927-1940. Berkeley.

OJL-6 The Country Girls. Berkeley.

OJL-8 Country Blues Encores 1927-1935. Berkeley.

OJL-10 Crying Sam Collins and His Git-Fiddle.

OJL-11 The Mississippi Blues No. 2: The Delta, 1929-32. Berkeley.

OJL-14 Alabama Country, 192 731. Berkeley.

OJL-15 Rugged Piano Classics, 1927-1939. Berkeley.

OJL-17 The Mississippi Blues, No. 3: Transition, 1926-1937. Berkeley.

OJL-18 Let's Go Riding. Berkeley.

OJL-19 More of That Jug Band Sound, 1927-1939. Berkeley.

OJL-20 The Blues in St. Louis, 1929-1937. Berkeley.

OJL-21 The Blues in Memphis, 1927-39. Berkeley.



PL-101 The Early Recordings of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe (1929-1936).


RBF Records

RF-1 The Country Blues. New York, 1959.

RF-6 The Jug Bands. New York, 1963.

RF-8 Sleepy John Estes, 1929-1940. New York, 1964.

RF-9 The Country Blues: Volume Two. New York, 1964.

RF-11 Blues Rediscoveries. New York, 1966.

RF-12 Piano Blues. New York, 1966.

RF-14 Blues Roots/Mississippi. New York, 1966.

RF-15 The Atlanta Blues. New York, 1966.

RF-16 Blues Roots/Chicago: The 1930's. New York, 1967.

RF-202 The Rural Blues: A Study of the Vocal and Instrumental Resources. New York, 1964. 2 phonodiscs.


RCA, RCA International

730.581 Memphis Slim (1940-1941). Black & White, Vol. 10. France.

INT-1085 Think You Need a Shot: Walter Davis. London, 1970.

INT- 1087 Big Joe Williams: Crawlin' King Snake. London, 1970.

INT-1088 Sonny Boy Williamson: Bluebird Blues. London, 1970.

INT-1175 Travellin' This Lonesome Road: A Victor/Bluebird Anthology. London, 1970.

INT-1177 You Got to Reap What You Sow: Jazz Gillum. London, 1970.

LPV-518 Bluebird Blues. Vintage Series. New York, 1965.

LPV-574 Lil Green: Romance in the Dark. Vintage Series. New York, 1971.

LPV-577 Feeling Lowdown: Washboard Sam. Vintage Series. New York, 1971.



RLP-12-125 Blind Lemon Jefferson: Classic Folk-Blues by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Jazz Archive Series. New York.

RM-8803 Georgia Tom and Friends. Classic Jazz Masters. New York.

RM-8819 Mr. Sykes Blues, 1929-1932. Classic Jazz Masters. New York.



RL-301 Blind Lemon Jefferson: Volume 1.

RL-305 "Cross Cut Saw Blues": Tommy McClennan (1939-1941).

RI-306 Blind Lemon Jefferson: Volume 2.

RL-307 The Memphis Area, 1927-1932.

RL-308 Frank Stokes with Dan Sane and Will Batts (1927-1929).

RL-310 Missouri and Tennessee (1924-1937).

RL-311 Harmonicas, Washboards, Fiddles, Jugs (1927-1933). RL-312 Texas Country Music, Vol. 1 (1928-1936).
RL-312 Texas Country Music, Vol. 1 (1928-1936).

RL-313 "Down South" (Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama-Florida).

RL-314 Mississippi Blues, Vol. 3 (1928-1942).

RL-315 Texas Country Music, Vol. 2 (1927-1937).

RL-316 The Country Fiddlers.

RL-317 Lucille Bogan and Walter Roland (1930-1935).

RL-318 The East Coast States (Georgia-Carolinas-Virginia) (1927-1940).

RL-319 Up and Down the Mississippi (1926-1940).

RL-321 Great Harmonica Players (1927-1940): Volume 2.

RL-322 Memphis Jug Band Volume 1: 1927-1929.

RL-323 Memphis Blues (1927-1939).

RL-324 King of the Georgia Blues Singers: Blind Willie McTell (1929-1935).

RL-325 Alabama Country Blues (1924-1933).

RL-326 The East Coast States: Vol. 2 (1924-1938).

RL-327 Texas Country Music Vol. 3 (1927-1937).

RL-329 Memphis Blues (1927-1939), Vol. 2.

RL-330 The Famous 1928 Tommy Johnson-Ishman Bracey Session.

RL-333 Kings of Memphis Town (1927-1930).

RL-334 Country Blues Obscurities, Vol. 1 (1926-1936).

RL-335 Texas & Louisiana Country (1927-1932).

RL-337 Memphis Jug Band: Volume 2 (1927-1934).

RL-340 Country Blues Obscurities, Vol. 2 (1927-1936).



SDR-163 Kokomo Arnold. Matchbox Blues Series. Badminton, U.K., 1969.

SDR-191 Volume One: Peetie Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-In-Law, 1930-36. Matchbox Blues Series. Badminton, U.K.

SDR-192 Volume Two: Peetie Wheatstraw: The High Sheriff from Hell. Matchbox Blues Series. Badminton, U.K.



LP-2001 The Victoria Spivey Recorded Legacy of the Blues. New York.



S-1219 The Blues of Sleepy John Estes: Volume One. The Jazz Makers. Victoria, Australia.

S-1220 The Blues of Sleepy John Estes: Volume Two. The Jazz Makers. Victoria, Australia.

S-1225 The Blues of Lonnie Johnson. The Jazz Makers. Victoria, Australia, 1969.

S-1240 Blues Singers: Jazz Sounds of the 20's. The Jazz Makers. Victoria, Australia, 1962.

S-1276 Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson: Volume Two. The Jazz Makers. Victoria, Australia, 1970.



VLP-15 Clara Smith: Volume One. London, 1967.

VLP-16 Clara Smith: Volume Two. London, 1968.

VLP-17 Clara Smith: Volume Three. London, 1969.

VLP-23 Maggie Jones: Volume One, 1924-5. London, 1969.

VLP-25 Maggie Jones: Volume Two, 1925-6. London, 1969.

VLP-40 Hard Luck Blues. London, 1972.


Yazoo, Belzona

L-1001 Mississippi Blues, 1927-1941. New York.

L-1002 Ten Years in Memphis, 1927-1937. New York.

L-1003 St. Louis Town, 1929-1937. New York.

L-1004 Tex-Arkana-Louisiana Country, 1927-1932. New York.

L-1005 Blind Willie McTell: The Early Years (1927-1933). New York.

L-1006 Alabama Blues, 1927-1931. New York.

L-1007 Jackson Blues, 1928-1938. New York.

L-1008 Frank Stokes Dream, 1927-1931 (The Memphis Blues). New York.

L-1009 Mississippi Moaners, 1927-42. New York.

L-1010 Buddy Boy Hawkins & His Buddies. New York.

L-1011 The Young Big Bill Broonzy, 1928-1935. New York

L-1012 The Georgia Blues, 1927-1933. New York.

L-1014 Bo Carter: Greatest Hits, 1930-1940. New York.

L-1015 Favorite Country Blues-Guitar Duets (1929-1937). New York.

L-1016 Guitar Wizards (1926-1935). New York.

L-1017 Bessie Jackson & Walter Roland (1927-1935). New York.

L-1018 Going Away Blues (1926-1935). New York.

L-1019 Scrapper Blackwell (1928-1934). New York.

L-1020 Charley Patton: Founder of the Delta Blues. New York. 2 phonodiscs.

L-1021 Memphis Jamboree, 1927-1936. New York.

L-1025 Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis. New York.

L-1026 Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics, 1926-1937. New York.

L-1027 Clifford Gibson: Beat You Doing It. New York.

L-1028 Barrelhouse Blues, 1927-1936. New York.

L-1029 Papa Charlie Jackson: Fat Mouth, 1924-1929. New York.

L-1030 St. Louis Blues, 1929-1935: The Depression. New York.

L-1031 "Funny Papa" Smith: The Original Howling Wolf, 1930-1931. New York.

L-1032 Blues from the Western States, 1927-1949. New York.

L-1033 Roosevelt Sykes: The Country Blues Piano Ace, 1929-1932. New York.

L-1034 Bo Carter, 1931-1940. New York.

L-1035 Big Bill Broonzy, 1928-1935: Do That Guitar Rag. New York.

L-1036 Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell: Naptown Blues, 1929-1934. New York.

L-1037 Blind Willie McTell, 1927-1935. New York.

L-1038 Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta, 1926-1941. New York.

L-1039 Tampa Red: Bottleneck Guitar, 1928-1937. New York.

L-1041 Georgia Tom Dorsey, 1928-1932: Come on Mama Do That Dance. New York.











American Record Company












Black Patti








Black Swan
























Ace of Hearts




Blues Classics






Origin Jazz Library








RBF Records


Collector's Classics


RCA, RCA International






















Historical Records






Yazoo, Belzona








Birmingham Jug Band,
see Unknown Artist # 7, 8, 9, 10
Butterbeans and Susie,
see Joe Edwards # 1, 2, Susie Edwards # 1, 2
Cannon's Jug Stompers,
see Noah Lewis # 1, 2, 3, Asley Thompson # 1, Hosea Woods # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Dallas Jamboree Jug Band,
see Carl Davis # 1
Famous Hokum Boys,
see Big Bill Broonzy # 3
Frenchy's String Band, see Coley Jones # 2
Harlem Hamfats, see Joe McCoy # 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, Herb Morand # 1
The Hokum Boys, see Bob Robinson # 1, 2
T C. Johnson Groups, see Nap Hayes # 1, Blue Coat Tom Nelson # 1 
Kansas City Blues Strummers,  see Unknown Artist # 1 
 Memphis Jug Band, see Tewee Blackman # 1, 2, 3, Charlie Burse # 1, Jennie Clayton # 1, 2, 3, William Harris # 1, 2, Memphis Minnie # 6, 7, Charlie Bozo Nickerson # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, Poor Jab # 1, 2, Ben Ramey # 1, 2, 3, Will Shade # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, Vol Stevens # 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, Unknown Artist # 2, 4, Will Weldon # 1, 2, 3, 6 
Mississippi Sheiks, see Bo Chatman # 11, Lonnie Chatman # 1, 2, 3, Walter Vincson # 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
Shreveport Home Wreckers, see Ed Schaffer # 1, 2
Smith and Harper, see Smith # 1
State Street Boys, see Big Bill Broonzy # 20.