Christopher Allen Bouchillon, billed as "The Talking Comedian of the South," is credited with creating the "talking blues" form with the song "Talking Blues," recorded for Columbia Records in Atlanta in 1926, from which the style gets its name. The song was released in 1927, followed by a sequel, "New Talking Blues," in 1928. His song "Born in Hard Luck" is similar in style.
A talking blues typically consists of a repetitive guitar line utilizing a three chord progression which, although it is called a "blues", is not actually a twelve bar blues. The vocals are sung in a rhythmic, flat tone, very near to a speaking voice, and take the form of rhyming couplets. At the end of each verse, consisting of two couplets, the singer continues to talk, adding a fifth line consisting of an irregular, generally unrhymed, and unspecified number of bars, often with a pause in the middle of the line, before resuming the strict chordal structure. This example, from "Talking Blues" by Woody Guthrie, a cover of "New Talking Blues" by Bouchillon, serves to explain the format:
Mama's in the kitchen fixin' the yeast
Papa's in the bedroom greasin' his feetsDrinkin' home brew ... makes you happy.
Sister's in the cellar squeezin' up the hops
Brother's at the window just a-watchin' for the cops
The lyrics to a talking blues are characterized by dry, rural humour, with the spoken codetta often adding a wry commentary on the subject of the verse, like Bob Dylan's "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massa re Blues".
Now, I don't care just what you do
If you wanta have a picnic, that's up t' youIn the bathroom.
But don't tell me about it, I don't wanta hear it
Cause, see, I just lost all m picnic spirit
Stay in m' kitchen, have m' own picnic. . .
Development of the genre
Woody Guthrie popularized the style after Bouchillon; his "Talking Hard Work" is a title-tribute to Bouchillon's "Talking Blues" and "Born in Hard Luck". Several sources of the 1940s - 1950s, including the Almanac Singers, wrongly credited Guthrie as the creator of the talking blues; he was rather the innovator who explored the use of the form for political and topical subject matter. By the 1940s, what had started as a comedic country music genre became known as a form of wry political protest singing. This sample lyric, from "Talking Union" by Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Millard Lampell shows the development of the genre into a vehicle for political commentary:
Now, if you want higher wages, let me tell you what to doYou'll get shorter hours, better working conditions, vacations with pay ... take your kids to the seashore.
You got to talk to the workers in the shop with you
You got to build you a union, got to make it strong
But if you all stick together, boys, it won't be long
In 1958, the musician and folk music scholar John Greenway recorded an album collection called "Talking Blues" on the Folkways label. His compendium included 15 talking blues songs by Guthrie, Tom Glazer, and others, and was, according to the music historian Manfred Helfert, the "obvious source" for the many 1960s forays into the genre by Bob Dylan. The best known of Dylan's talking blues is "Talking World War III Blues" from 1963:
Well, I rung the fallout shelter bell
And I leaned my head and I gave a yell
"Give me a string bean, I'm a hungry man!"
A shotgun fired and away I ran
I don't blame them too much, though ... he didn't know me
Dylan's fame and his repeated use of the talking blues form contributed to the genre becoming a widely popular vehicle for the composition of songs with political content. When the country singer Johnny Cash recorded a song that described his trip to Vietnam with his wife June Carter Cash, he chose the talking blues format to describe his dissent against the Vietnam War.
One high, one holy holiday, on the first day of the year,
Little Matty Groves to church did go, some holy words to hearAll forty-seven verses of it.
When in come old Lord Arnold's wife, she looked at him and said,
"Come here often? What's your sign?" And off they went to bed.
In the interests of brevity, we'll omit some of the more repetitive parts of the song.
Like the part where they get undressed.
- "Talking Blues" (1926) and "New Talking Blues" (1928) by Christopher Allen Bouchillon
- "Talking Dust Bowl Blues" (1940), "Talking Fishing Blues", "Talking Centralia", "Talking Columbia", "Talking Hard Work", "Talking Sailor", and "Talking Subway" by Woody Guthrie.
- "Talking Union," by Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Millard Lampell.
- "Atomic Talking Blues" (a.k.a. "Talking Atom", "Old Man Atom") by Vern Partlow
- "Talking Inflation Blues" by Tom Glazer
- Talking Blues (1958), an LP collection of 15 songs in the talking blues genre by various song-writers, recorded and annotated by John Greenway
- "Talking World War III Blues" (1963), "Talking New York", "Talking Hava Negiliah Blues", "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", "I Shall Be Free No. 10", and "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" by Bob Dylan, all recorded during the 1960s
- "Singing in Viet Nam Talking Blues" by Johnny Cash
- "Talking Big Apple '75" by Loudon Wainwright III' (on his 1976 album T Shirt)
- "Fraternity Blues", "Talking Thunderbird Blues", "Talking Karate Blues" by Townes Van Zandt
- "Talkin' Blues (What's in a Name)" by Billy Connolly
- "Talking Mysterious Prostate" by Don Freed.
- "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Blues" by Todd Snider
- "Talkin Alien Abduction Blues" by Dan Bern (1996)
- "Talkin' Woody, Bob, Bruce, and Dan Blues," by Dan Bern (1998)
- "Talkin Al Kida Blues" by Dan Bern (2002)
- "Talkin' Orange Alert Blues" by John Craigie (2006)
- "Talking Post-Trauma Blues (PTSD)" by Tom Smith (2007)
- "We're Sick of It" by Adam Gnade (2007)
- "Talkin' Veterinarian Blues" by Corb Lund
- "Talkin Gotcha Blues" by Jason Roseboom (from the album Talkin Gotcha Blues) (2010)
- "Talkin Faux News Paranoid Blues" by Jason Roseboom (2009)
- "Talkin' Sasquatch Blues" by Ten Mile Tide (2008)
- "Street Ramblin' Global Warming & Terrorism Blues" by Jack Gramski (2012)
Similar forms and similar titles
- "Born in Hard Luck" by Christopher Allen Bouchillon is often referred to as a talking blues but follows a different chordal and melodic structure than Bouchillon's original "Talking Blues." 
- "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" by Arlo Guthrie, the son of Woody Guthrie, is considered a talking blues by some, though it follows a different melodic structure, one more reminiscent of Chris Bouchillon's "Born in Hard Luck" than his original "Talking Blues." In addition, it features a repeated chorus based on a circle of fifths melody, similar to "Take It Slow and Easy" by Jesse Fuller or "Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden" by Tommy Bradley (1930).
- The Dire Straits song "Walk of Life" refers to "the talkin blues", but is itself not a talking blues in format.
- "Talking Blues" by Bob Marley is a reference to gospel music and, despite the title, is neither a blues nor a talking blues in form.
- California-born, Kansas-based songwriter Adam Gnade plays a self-described style called "talking songs." Some of his songs are in the talking blues form but most are spoken vocals set to longer post-rock-style backings.
- Leggett, Steve. "Chris Bouchillon". allmusic. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
- "Chris Bouchillon Biography". aolmusic. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
- "Chris Bouchillon 'The Original Talking Blues Man'". Retrieved 2009-08-23.
- "John Greenway - Obvious Source of Dylan's Talking Blues" by Manfred Helfert
- van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.