11 January 2016


Tuba Skinny performing 'Owl Call Blues'

Tuba Skinny are fond of what I would describe as 'eight-bar melodies'. What I am referring to are themes of eight bars (measures), sometimes repeated, so you could say the tunes are either of eight bars or sixteen bars (often with a 'turn-around' in bars 7 and 8). A sixteen bar (8 + 8) example is Late Hour Blues - a song they introduced into their repertoire in April 2015.

I suppose this is inevitable with a band that garners so much of its material from the unsophisticated songs of the jug bands and blues guitarists of the 1920s and 1930s. They went in for simple, memorable themes that are really good to sing.

These eight-bar tunes (sometimes using only two chords and sometimes needing just four chords covering two bars each) have become specialities of Tuba Skinny's wonderful vocalist, Erika Lewis.

Not long ago, she added Untrue Blues to her eight-bar songs in a version that is remarkably faithful to the 1937 original by Blind Boy Fuller. Incidentally, Tuba Skinny play it in the key of A, which is awkward for some brass and clarinet players. Here's Erika: Click here to watch.

And here's the original by Blind Boy Fuller. He prefers the key of Bb: Click here.

But other Tuba Skinny numbers in this eight-bar category are:
Mississippi River Blues (Big Bill Broonzy, 1934)
Blue Spirit Blues (by Spencer Williams and famously recorded by Bessie Smith in 1929; it also has a 12-bar theme at the end)
Got a Mind To Ramble (Merline Johnson, 1930s)
Lonesome Drag (Tennessee Chocolate Drops, 1930; adapted by Erika Lewis)
Ice Man (Memphis Minnie, 1936)
Baby, Please Don't Go ('Big Joe' Williams, 1935) (Click here to watch video)
I'll See You in the Spring (The Memphis Jug Band, 1927)
Owl Call Blues (music by Shaye Cohn and words by Erika Lewis, 2014): you can watch Erika singing this haunting tune by clicking on here.
Papa, Let Me Lay It On You (Blind Boy Fuller, 1938) CLICK HERE for a video of this filmed by my friend David Wiseman.
Too Tight Blues (Blind Blake, 1927)
All I Want is a Spoonful (Papa Charlie Jackson, 1925)

There's a lesson here for the rest of us. Maybe we should play more eight-bar tunes, especially if our band is lucky enough to have a singer.