St. Louis Blues

By Johnson, Orville | Acoustic Guitar, September 2012 | Go to article overview

St. Louis Blues


Johnson, Orville, Acoustic Guitar


"St. Louis Blues" was written and published by W.C. Handy in 1914. Handy*s biggest claim to fame was publishing 1912's "Memphis Blues," the first blues to be committed to sheet music, but "St. Louis Blues" would introduce blues to the pop music of the era and go on to become his most recorded and most popular number. Handy claimed that the inspiration for it came from a conversation with a woman he met in St. Louis who, speaking about her husband, said, That man's got a heart like a rock cast in the sea," which became an important line in the song.

Hand/s songs include many written in the 12-bar blues form we're accustomed to, but, being a crafty marketer, he also liked to mix in some of the dance rhythms that were hot at the time to broaden the appeal of his tunes. He wrote "St. Louis Blues" with a 12-bar blues section and a section with a tango rhythm. He begins his arrangement with the tango beat in a minor key and then switches to the 12-bar blues in the parallel major key. In his autobiography, Father of the Blues, Handy says, "1 tricked the dancers by arranging a tango introduction, breaking abruptly into a low-down blues. …

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