How Blue Can You Get

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"How Blue Can You Get"
Single by B.B. King
B-side "Please Accept My Love"
Released 1964 (1964)
Format 7-inch 45 rpm record
Genre Blues
Length 2:40
Label ABC-Paramount (no. 10527)
Songwriter(s) Jane Feather, Leonard Feather[1]
Producer(s) Sid Feller
B.B. King singles chronology
"How Do I Love You"
"How Blue Can You Get"
"Rock Me Baby"
"How Do I Love You"
"How Blue Can You Get"
"Rock Me Baby"

"How Blue Can You Get" (alternatively "Downhearted") is a blues song first recorded by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in 1949. It is a slow twelve-bar blues that jazz critic Leonard Feather and his wife, Jane Feather, are credited with writing.[1] The song has been recorded by several blues and other artists. In 1964, it was a hit for B.B. King and became a staple of his live shows.

Earlier songs[edit]

In 1949, Johnny Moore with his brother, Oscar Moore, on guitars, Billy Valentine on piano and vocal, and Johnny Miller on bass recorded "How Blue Can You Get" in the West Coast blues-style. It was included on the jazz and blues compilation album Singin' the Blues (1960).[2] Feather described the song as having "the type of intimate instrumental setting heard in so many best blues vocal performances of the 1940s".[3] In 1951, Louis Jordan recorded the song using a big band arrangement.[4]

B.B. King versions[edit]

B.B. King first recorded the song as "Downhearted", which was included on his 1963 Blues in My Heart album.[5] The song is performed at "a steady, stately pace, its groove punctuated by B.B.'s stinging runs and wailing, sustained notes", according to King biographer David McGee.[6] King later re-recorded the song as "How Blue Can You Get" and ABC-Paramount Records released it as a single in 1964. It "stood out, thanks to the relative simplicity of its arrangement, and the caustic humor of the lyrics".[7] McGee adds that the remake featured "more propulsion from the horn section, and B.B. investing his vocal with far more outrage than can be detected on the laidback original".[6] It also added a "vehement stop-time interlude":[8]

I gave you a brand new Ford, you said 'I want a Cadillac'
I bought you a ten dollar dinner, you said 'Thanks for the snack'
I let you live in my penthouse, you said it was just a shack
I gave you seven children, and now you want to give them back

"How Blue Can You Get" reached number 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart in 1964 (Billboard's R&B chart was suspended at the time).[9] The song became a fixture in King's live shows[6] "with enough good punchlines for B.B. to keep it in his act for decades".[1] A live version of the song first appeared on the Live at the Regal album recorded in Chicago in 1964; King prefaced it with "pay attention to the lyrics, not so much to my singing or the band". Since then, live versions of the song have been included on several live B.B. King albums, such as Live in Cook County Jail, Live in Japan, the expanded Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert, and the 2008 album Live at the BBC.

Recordings by other artists[edit]

A variety of artists have recorded "How Blue Can You Get", including[10] Duke Ellington, Albert Collins, James Cotton, Howard Tate (1966), Magic Slim, Fleetwood Mac, and Jeff Healey (2008, Mess of Blues). Gregg and Duane Allman also performed this song in 1968 as a part of a medley of B.B. King tunes. In 1996, Primitive Radio Gods sampled the line "I've been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met" for the chorus of their single "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand", which became a record chart hit. King also performed the song in both the Blues Brothers 2000 movie as well as on the movie soundtrack, along with a medley of other artists credited as "The Louisiana Gator Boys", a rival blues supergroup fronted by King's character, Malvern Gasperone. In 2010, Cyndi Lauper recorded "How Blue Can You Get" with Jonny Lang for her blues album Memphis Blues.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Escott, Colin (2002). B.B. King: The Vintage Years (Box set booklet). B.B. King. Ace Records. p. 44. Ace ABOXCD 8. 
  2. ^ RCA Camden (CAL-588)
  3. ^ Feather, Leonard (1960). Singin' the Blues (Album notes). Various Artists. New York City: RCA Camden. p. 1. CAL 588. 
  4. ^ Decca Records (27648)
  5. ^ Crown (CLP 5309)
  6. ^ a b c McGee, David (2005). B.B. King: There Is Always One More Time. Backbeat Books. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-0-87930-843-8. 
  7. ^ Danchin, Sebastian (1998). Blues Boy: The Life and Music of B. B. King. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-57806-017-7. 
  8. ^ Gioia, Ted (2008). Delta Blues (Norton Paperback 2009 ed.). New York City: W. W. Norton. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-393-33750-1. 
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 239. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  10. ^ "Song Search Results for How Blue Can You Get". AllMusic. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  11. ^ Rule, Doug (June 24, 2010). "True Blues". Retrieved April 17, 2014.