I like to think I have reasonably wide-ranging musical tastes, if not particularly cutting-edge. In fact, I’ve rarely ever been anything close to cool. My first loves were perhaps Queen and ELO in the late 1970s, influenced by my Dad. As a teenager in the 1980s I seemed to like Heavy Rock like Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and AC/DC as well as things like Pink Floyd, Genesis and Rush. I never much liked The Smiths, and only belatedly discovered The Cure. The nearest I get to cool is that I was in the same Hall of Residence at university as Thom Yorke from Radiohead. And all the time I played French Horn, building my love of classical music from Bach to Mahler, Mozart to Gershwin.
In amongst all this I have barely a passing acquaintance with The Blues (Jimmy Page aside, more of which later). Perhaps more than any other genre, The Blues have an astonishing mythology and heritage, and indeed influence upon much of current popular music. But I was more simply inspired to write this piece today by a letter to The Word Magazine last month from Graham Jones, Proper Music Distribution Ltd. This made me laugh out loud more than once, and IMHO is perhaps the best letter ever… below are transcribed some edited highlights for your amusement.
WRITING AND SINGING THE BLUES – SOME GUIDELINES…
1. Most Blues begin, “Woke up this morning…”
2. “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin The Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.”
3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, you repeat it. Then find something that rhymes – sort of. “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, and she weigh 500 pound.”
4. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch. Ain’t no way out.
6. Teenagers can’t sing The Blues. They ain’t fixin’ to die yet. Adults sing The Blues. In Blues, “adulthood” means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.
8. A man with male pattern baldness ain’t The Blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is.Breaking your leg ‘cos you were skiing ain’t The Blues. Breaking your leg ‘cos a alligator be chompin’ on it is.
10. Good places for The Blues: the highway, the jailhouse, an empty bed, the bottom of a whisky glass.
11. Bad places for The Blues: Nordstrom’s, gallery openings, Ivy League institutions, golf courses.
13. You have a right to sing The Blues if: (a) you older than dirt, (b) you blind, (c) you shot a man in Memphis, (d) you can’t be satisfied.
14. You don’t have the right to sing The Blues if: (a) you have all your teeth, (b) you were once blind but now can see, (c) the man in Memphis lived, (d) you have a pension fund.
15. Blues is not a matter of colour. It’s a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing The Blues. Sonny Liston could.
19. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broke-down cot. You can’t have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.
20. Blues names for women: (a) Sadie, (b) Big Mama, (c) Bessie, (d) Fat River Dumpling.
21. Blues names for men: (a) Joe, (b) Willie, (c) Little Willie, (d) Big Willie.
22. People with names like Michelle, Amber, Debbie and Heather cannot sing The Blues, no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.
23. I don’t care how tragic your life: if you own even one computer you cannot sing The Blues.
And then I discovered this: Generate your own Blues name… apparently you can call me Divine Marvin Perkins.
Let me leave you with Led Zeppelin. They could apparently Play The Blues, despite being middle-class white boys from England. Perhaps they’re the exception that proves the rule.