How Long, How Long Blues

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"How Long, How Long Blues"
How Long, How Long Blues single cover.jpg
Single by Leroy Carr
B-side"My Own Lonesome Blues"
Released1928 (1928)
RecordedIndianapolis, Indiana, June 19, 1928
Songwriter(s)Leroy Carr

"How Long, How Long Blues" (also known as "How Long Blues" or "How Long How Long") is a blues song recorded by the American blues duo Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell in 1928. The song became "an instant best-seller"[1] and one of the first blues standards, inspiring many blues songs of the era.[2] It has been recorded by many artists, not only in blues but also country and western, pop, and jazz.

Original song[edit]

"How Long, How Long Blues" is based on "How Long Daddy", recorded in 1925 by Ida Cox with Papa Charlie Jackson.[3] Leroy Carr (vocal and piano) and Scrapper Blackwell (guitar) recorded the song in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 19, 1928, for Vocalion Records, shortly after they began performing together.[4] It is a moderately slow-tempo blues with an eight-bar structure, notated in 4
or common time in the key of C.[5][6] Carr is credited with the lyrics and music for the song,[5] which uses a departed train as a metaphor for a lover who has left:

Heard the whistle blowin', couldn't see no train
Way down in my heart, I had an achin' pain
How long, how long, baby how long

Carr's and Blackwell's songs reflected a more urban and sophisticated blues, in contrast to the music of rural bluesmen of the time.[7] Carr's blues were "expressive and evocative",[8] although his vocals have also been described as emotionally detached, high-pitched and smooth, with clear diction.[9][10] Blackwell's single-string jazz guitar lines provided the role of a responsorial voice as well as rhythmic chording.

"How Long, How Long Blues" was Carr and Scrapwell's biggest hit.[11] They subsequently recorded six more versions of the song (two of them, unissued at the time), as "How Long, How Long Blues, Part 2", "Part 3", "How Long Has That Evening Train Been Gone", "The New How Long, How Long Blues", etc. There are considerable variations in the lyrics, many of which have since fallen out of use in modern performances. Most versions begin with the lyric "How long, how long, has that evening train been gone?"


"How Long, How Long Blues" became an early blues standard and "its lilting melody inspired hundreds of later compositions",[12] including the Mississippi Sheiks' "Sitting on Top of the World" and Robert Johnson's "Come On in My Kitchen".[13] Although his later style would not suggest it, Muddy Waters recalled that it was the first song he learned to play "off the Leroy Carr record".[14]

In 1988, Carr's "How Long, How Long Blues" was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the category "Classics of Blues Recordings – Singles or Album Tracks".[13] In 2012, the song received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, which "honor[s] recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance".[15]

Carr's partnership with guitarist Blackwell combined his light bluesy piano with a melodic jazzy guitar that was a progenitor of urban blues. His vocal style moved blues singing toward an urban sophistication and influenced such singers as T-Bone Walker, Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, Jimmy Witherspoon, Ray Charles, amongst others.[9] Blackwell's jazz single-string guitar lines helped pave the way for electric guitarists such as Eddie Durham and Charlie Christian.[10]

Later renditions[edit]

It has been noted that "How Long, How Long Blues" "enjoyed such immense popularity that it as seized upon by numerous blues singers and jazz artists, its impact spreading way beyond the boundaries of the purely black community".[16]

Some of these artists include Pigmeat Markham, who recorded the song for Blue Note Records in 1945 with Oliver "Rev" Mesheux's sextet; James Crutchfield, who recorded the song in 1955 (released on the 2000 CD Biddle Street Barrelhousin'); Lonnie Donegan (1956, Lonnie Donegan Showcase); Big Joe Turner (1956, The Boss of the Blues); Johnnie Ray (1956, The Big Beat); Lou Rawls (1962, Black and Blue); Dinah Washington (1963, Back to the Blues); Davy Graham (1963, The Guitar Player); Hot Tuna (1970, Hot Tuna); Grateful Dead, who performed it live once (February 12, 1989, at the Great Western Forum, with Spencer Davis as a guest);[17] Eric Clapton (1994, From the Cradle); and Pinetop Perkins (1997, Born in the Delta). In 1963, Ella Fitzgerald included this on her Verve release These are the Blues.[18]


  1. ^ Shadwick, Keith (2007). The Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues. London: Quantum Publishing. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-681-08644-9. Missing or empty |title= (help) Note: Veteran collectors of blues and jazz 78s of the 1920s and 1930s have pointed out that official sales figures do not exist for this particular record, and that sales of "over a million" (as previously reported here) is extremely unlikely. A more realistic figure is thought to be at least 100,000 copies, ranging upwards, perhaps, as much as 200,000 – although again, we must stress this is purely conjecture, based on the evidence of the surviving copies.
  2. ^ Wald, Elijah (2004). Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Amistad. p. 35. ISBN 978-0060524272.
  3. ^ Birnbaum, Larry (2012). Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll. Scarecrow Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-8108-8629-2.
  4. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  5. ^ a b Hal Leonard (1995). The Blues. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Hal Leonard. pp. 90–91. ISBN 0-79355-259-1.
  6. ^ The original recording is in E.
  7. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell". Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 54. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  8. ^ O'Neal, Jim (1996). "Leroy Carr". In Erlewine, Michael (ed.). All music guide to the blues : The experts' guide to the best blues recordings. All Music Guide to the Blues. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. p. 45. ISBN 0-87930-424-3.
  9. ^ a b Shaw, Arnold (1978). Honkers and Shouters. New York: Macmillan Publishers. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-02-061740-2.
  10. ^ a b Rowe, Mike (1973). Chicago Blues. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 12–13. ISBN 0-306-80145-0.
  11. ^ Herzhaft 1992, p. 453.
  12. ^ Wald 2004, p. 37.
  13. ^ a b O'Neal, Jim (November 10, 2016). "1988 Hall of Fame Inductees: How Long, How Long Blues – Leroy Carr (Vocalion, 1928)". The Blues Foundation. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  14. ^ Wald 2004, p. 58.
  15. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Awards – Past Recipients". 2012. Archived from the original on July 7, 2015. Retrieved May 20, 2013.
  16. ^ Demetre, Jacques; adapted by Waterhouse, Don (1994). The Prewar Blues Story (CD booklet). Various artists. Best of Blues Records. p. 22. Best of Blues 20.
  17. ^ Several times during the Grateful Dead's 1970 acoustic sit-down sets, they covered the 1929 song "How Long" by Frank Stokes (not to be confused with Carr's "How Long, How Long Blues").
  18. ^ "These Are the Blues - Ella Fitzgerald | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.