Bathroom Blues, Take 2

Like many guitar-playing kids of my generation, I first met acoustic blues music on Eric Clapton’s 1992 Unlpugged album. At the time I had no idea that half of those songs came out of the deep south in the 1920s; they all came from the cassette tape as far as I was concerned. Even years later, in high school, when I discovered that Layla was originally a 70s rock anthem, I didn’t pause to wonder where the other tracks came from. Turns out they all have a story.

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out was penned by a songwriter named Jimmy Cox during the prohibition era, in 1923. But this is a song for hard times, and fittingly, it became famous when it was recorded by Bessie Smith in 1929, two weeks after the stock exchange reached its all-time high and began to slide, then collapse. It goes to show that a great song alone doesn’t capture the public eye, but the right song at the right moment (with the right production and promotion) always will. Bessie Smith read the times. Sixty years later Clapton similarly intuited that the mainstream was ready to be reintroduced to country blues music. And somehow Robin Thicke knew that we were all dying to hear that Marvin Gaye song again. Both men were right. Somehow I don’t think my rehashing of this old gem will produce such a stir. This song will have to rest a few more decades before it can take the world by storm, again. Until then, enjoy my version.

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Bathroom Blues

I do my best thinking at 6:45am on weekends, right when my alarm would sound, except that its silent and I am awake anyway. I put my head under the pillow and think of concept albums and quirky band instrumentations. The more I think the more awake I get, until I get antsy and give up on sleeping in. This week I conceived of a weekly video project in which I perform blues favorites in my bathroom. Maybe it was the blue tile floor that got me thinking, or just the obvious alliteration and the appeal of the funky acoustics. Whatever heaved this idea into being, the notion held my interest long enough to execute it, and now I can present my first installment of the Bathroom Blues: The Hesitation Blues

This is a well-travelled tune with no clear creator, and no definitive recording. For an idea of how far the song has come, listen to this 1916 instrumental recording. My version has its own story of adoption and adaptation. I learned the song in high school, backing up a husband and wife duo act in local bars. I took the tune and laid it on an instrumental blues my dad used to play in endless circles when I was a kid. The lyrics are similarly mashed up: some go back a ways, some I borrowed from a friend in college, and at least one I might have made up myself. Does that make it mine now?