Traditional blues verses

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In the folk tradition, there are many traditional blues verses that have been sung over and over by many artists. Blues singers, who include many country and folk artists as well as those commonly identified with blues singers, use these traditional lyrics to fill out their blues performances. Artists like Jimmie Rodgers, the "blue yodeler", and Big Joe Turner, "the Boss of the Blues" compiled virtual encyclopedias of lyrics. Turner reputedly could sing the blues for hours without repeating himself.


Traditional blues verses in folk-music tradition have also been called floating lyrics or maverick stanzas. Floating lyrics have been described as “lines that have circulated so long in folk communities that tradition-steeped singers call them instantly to mind and rearrange them constantly, and often unconsciously, to suit their personal and community aesthetics”.[1]


Although many blues songs, such as "Jelly Jelly" or "St. Louis Blues" are composed in the usual fashion with lyrics focusing on a single theme and telling a story, many others, like "Roll 'Em Pete" or "T for Texas" combine one or two new verses with a flock of traditional ones.

Traditional blues verses are most common in twelve bar blues with the characteristic repeated first line (indicated here by x2).

Blues songs are by no means all sad. Many of these traditional lyrics are salacious:

See that spider crawlin' up that wall (x2)
He's crawlin up there to get his ashes hauled.
Let me be your little dog till your big dog comes (x2)
And when the big dog gets here, tell him what the puppy done done
Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me (x2)
It may be sending you baby but its worryin' the hell out of me.

Other lyrics tell of violence and unhappy romance:

I'm gonna buy me a pistol with a great long shiny barr'l (x2)
Gonna shoot that rounder who stole away my gal
If you see me comin', heist your window high (x2)
If you see me goin', baby, hang your head and cry.
It's been three weeks since my sweet baby said goodbye (x2)
And now my sweet dog, has eaten all of my sweet pie

Others detail the miseries of life:

If your house catches fire and there ain't no water 'round (x2)
Throw your rags out the window, let the doggone shack burn down.

"Traditional lyrics" of known origin[edit]

Some lyrics crop up in song after song, such as:

I did more for you baby than the good Lord ever done
I went downtown and bought you some hair and the good Lord never gave you none

These lyrics seem, however, to have a known origin, in this case the eponymic "S.K. Blues" of Saunders King. The song has several verses on the same theme, ending with the threat, "You won't have no hair, no head at all".


  1. ^ Carl Lindahl, ‘Thrills and Miracles: Legends of Lloyd Chandler’, Journal of Folklore Research, Bloomington: May-Dec 2004, Vol. 41, Issue 2/3, pp. 133-72.