Talking blues

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Talking blues aka "The Talking Guitar" is a form of folk music and country music. It is characterized by rhythmic speech or near-speech where the melody is free, but the rhythm is strict, which originated with African American blues guitarists and singers, such as Blind Blake, Willie McTell, Pink Anderson, Pinetop Smith and Butterbeans and Susie.

Although Christopher Allen Bouchillon, is billed as "The Talking Comedian of the South," and is credited with creating the "talking blues" form with the song "Talking Blues," recorded for Columbia Records in Atlanta in 1926, he is not the creator of the "Talking Blues".[1][2][3] 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.

The form[edit]

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 feets
Sister's in the cellar squeezin' up the hops
Brother's at the window just a-watchin' for the cops

Drinkin' home brew ... makes you happy.

The lyrics to a talking blues are characterized by dry, rural humor, with the spoken codetta often adding a wry commentary on the subject of the verse, like Bob Dylan's "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues".

Now, I don't care just what you do

If you wanta have a picnic, that's up t' you
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. . .

In the bathroom.

Development of the genre[edit]

Woody Guthrie and his song "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. By the 1940s, what had started as a comedic country music genre became a more pronounced 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 do
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

You'll get shorter hours, better working conditions, vacations with pay ... take your kids to the seashore.

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.[4] 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.

Talking blues is also popular as a medium for parody, as in "Like a Lamb to the Slaughter", Frank Hayes's talking-blues parody of Matty Groves:

One high, one holy holiday, on the first day of the year,

Little Matty Groves to church did go, some holy words to hear
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.

All forty-seven verses of it.

Notable examples[edit]

  • "Talking Blues" (1926) and "New Talking Blues" (1928) by Christopher Allen Bouchillon[3]
  • "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 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
  • "Alice's Restaurant" (1967) by Arlo Guthrie
  • "Talkin' Candy Bar Blues" by Peter, Paul & Mary on A Song Will Rise (1965)
  • "Singing in Viet Nam Talking Blues" by Johnny Cash
  • "Talking Birmingham Jam" (1963), "Talking Airplane Disaster" (1963), "Talking Cuban Crisis" (1963), "Talking Vietnam (1964) by Phil Ochs

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leggett, Steve. "Chris Bouchillon". allmusic. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  2. ^ "Chris Bouchillon Biography". aolmusic. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  3. ^ a b "Chris Bouchillon 'The Original Talking Blues Man'". Retrieved 2009-08-23. 
  4. ^ "John Greenway - Obvious Source of Dylan's Talking Blues" by Manfred Helfert

Further reading[edit]