Proper Blues Pronunciation

Yes, I’m gonna get me religion, I’m gonna join the Baptis’ Choich.
Yes, I’m gonna get me religion, I say I’m gonna join the Baptis’ Choich.
You know I wanna be a Baptis’ preacher, so I won’t have to woik. (Preachin’ Blues, Son House)

Thus begins our look at proper Blues pronunciation.

Related to the topic at hand, Mrs. Blue and I recently attended a Guy Davis concert. It was an enjoyable evening of Blues, humor, and storytelling. He probably stretched too far when he took on Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues, but his impression of Sonny Terry on the harp was pure time travel.

And now if I may digress within my digression, it was striking to look around at Guy Davis’ audience: overwhelmingly post-middle aged white men with their wimmen. (More proper Blues pronunciation there.)  From what I can tell, that’s pretty much the tint of Blues fans since at least the sixties’ revival. If you have a theory on why that’s the case, feel free to offer it.  My theory is that, for the white audience, the Blues has an essentially Romantic appeal.  That is, it is an emotional escape to another time and place; the Blues is about as far as you can get from their life-experiences.  But then, for much of the would-be black audience, the blues is a reminder of oppressive times and, as such, doesn’t provide much of an escape; it’s just not fun.

Anyway, Guy Davis stood before us as a Blues man, but he is clearly well-educated. Listening to his vocabulary and his diction, it was clear that the man did well on his verbal SAT’s, and it was only with considerable concentration that he was able to slur and slang his way through the old Blues songs.

Now getting back to the opening quote, notice how Son House was going to join a “choich” so he wouldn’t have to “woik.”  But House isn’t alone. Muddy Waters had his “mojo woikin,’” John Lee Hooker mourned over “when my foist wife left me,” Charley Patton knew where there was a “boid’s nest” and Lead Belly “jumped in the river, started to drown, thought about my gal and I toined around.”

Thus ends our foist lesson in speaking the Blues.


Filed under Blues

5 responses to “Proper Blues Pronunciation

  1. Lily

    Part of the shift in audience might have come from commercialization or move towards R & B?

    Ruth Brown: Mama He Treats You Daughter Mean

    • Funny how blues lyrics get borrowed and altered. Much earlier Blind Lemon Jefferson had sung “Mama, don’t treat your daughter mean…That’s the meanest woman a man most ever seen.”
      My understanding is that many musicians went from the country to the city (Chicago) where an uptempo sound left the blues behind for the most part.

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