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Verse Chorus Verse: Joe Louis Walker – “I’ve Been Down”

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The most popular topic in the blues is the blues.  Most blues songs involve having the blues, having had the blues, or expecting the blues; and some are about all three.  If a bluesman (or blueswoman) doesn't have the blues, they're probably down.  How many blues songs have the words "blue," "blues," or "down" in the title?

When I saw the title "I've Been Down" on Joe Louis Walker's Between a Rock And The Blues, I confused it with Albert King's "Down Don't Bother Me."  On the same day I bought Between, I bought Louisiana Red's album with David Maxwell and it has a song called "Been Down So Long."

I mention all of this because I expected another generic blues song with tired imagery and rhymes I could complete in my sleep.  I am happy to report I was wrong.

One explanation for the similarity of so many blues songs — particularly the earliest blues generation — is that many of them were written by field hands denied anything approximating actual educational opportunity; lyrics were a small part of the transmission of the emotion.  The individuality of the song came from the personal stamp of the performer, and you can't have generic blues when you have authenticity and passion like what Joe Louis Walker puts on display here.

Walker isn't just down in this song, he's angry and frustrated, unwilling to resign himself to permanent downness, even though he's been down this long.  His voice conveys the strain of his struggle while his guitar shrieks and howls his defiance. 

An expanded vocabulary in the blues wouldn't be unwelcome but Walker takes an identifiable concept and injects it with new life. And it's that spark of life we're all looking for in the songs.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://dagoddess.com Joanie

    Some words are better used to convey angry, hurt, and a building sense of confrontation better than others. That’s why they show up so often. It’s the delivery, the arrangement, the tone that changes their ability to reach their target. “Yet we are not down” ™ is different from “We are not yet down” ™, right? Two entirely different things are meant. All about how you use to tools at hand.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Words have limits, emotion doesn’t. It’s definitely about how we use the tools. That said, not every tool is a Swiss Army knife. There are some that are used too often and they would seem to lose their effectiveness- that is, until someone comes in and reminds you what the tool was originally designed to do.

  • http://dagoddess.com Joanie

    Exactly. (I was going to say “exactamundo” but that’s just wrong, isn’t it? And also a prime example of tools being used improperly)

  • Josh Hathaway

    Heh… in some fashion.