Today I had to write a blues song. The irony of this statement, coming from a suburban Californian, is intentional. Not only do I not listen to the blues, despite growing up in Chicago, I never entered a blues club (as the drinking age elevated to 21 during my youth). Nonetheless, for a story about an inebriate during Prohibition, I had to create the lyrics for a tune about Jamaican ginger, aka, the Jake.
Initially, I planned to use the lyrics from an actual blues song by some southerner from the era, but to my surprise, my editor at AHMM informed me that the song I liked remained under copyright. After an hour trying to track down the current owner of those rights, I gave up and decided to write my own.
Fortunately, I found plenty of examples. The beauty of the internet is that everything is available, including many things that should not be there because they are copyrighted. Regardless, there they were.
To simplify the task, I used my training as an English major to analyze the structure: rhyming couplets tending toward iambic pentameter. In fact, those songs I found most reminded me of poems by Langston Hughes.
Still, it felt odd to be counting the syllables of a song written by someone who sang from the heart, and probably never thought of his words in such a way. Ultimately, I found that if I used some of the words from the originals and filled in my own syntax, I could craft a passable imitation.
In case you’re curious, here it is:
Felt so thirsty, I couldn’t see
Needed some tipple to steady me
Bought a potion at the local drug
Instead it give me the limber leg
Boys, you better beware
Fore you end up in despair
That white ginger booze
Will give you the jake walk blues