A friend told me she didn’t care for blues music, “It’s just too sad,” she said. She did, however, admit to liking country music and that left me a little perplexed. Isn’t country music just white people’s blues? If your women ran off and you’re black, you may be moaning about it in a whiskey soaked gravely voice while playing an old acoustic guitar tuned to an open G and using a glass bottle neck to evoke a moaning cry in minor and seventh chords. If you’re white and your woman’s done gone, you’re likely sitting in a roadhouse honky-tonk picking slow simple cords in standard tuning and singing hurtful words about life gone wrong, loosing yourself in your Colorado Kool-Aid, and expressing your sorrow with high-pitched nasally phrases and mournful yodels.
The one thing really different about blues and country musicians, however, is the names they use. Most country musicians just use their given names (most are named Hank), while blues players often are known by a nickname. I can’t explain why but it’s always been something quite common in black culture, especially in the South. About every black man or woman who did business in my uncle Johnny’s grocery store in South Carolina had a nickname and most people only knew them by that. If I was to mention Chester Burnett or McKinley Morganfield most people, black or white, wouldn’t know who I was referring to. If I said Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters about everyone would recognize the names and maybe break out with a little Smokestack Lightin’ or Hoochie Coochie Man.
Other legendary nicknames in blues include Blind Willie McTell, Guitar Slim, Guitar Murphy, Lightin’ Hopkins, Harmonica Bean, Sonnyboy Williamson, Big Eyes Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Piano Red, Tampa Red, Pinetop Perkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and on and on.
Years ago WLW’s Gary Burbank created a character he called Howlin’ Muddy Blind Slim. Don Imus regular, Rob Bartlett, created a blues character he called Blind Mississippi White Boy Pig Feets Dupris. Both men created wonderful blends or composites of the many personalities who have helped make blues the root of all American music genres.
I think it would be an interesting challenge to create a few imaginary blues names and groups to add to what Burbank and Bartlett began. So, here’s a few I’ve come up with.
- Three-ball Horowitz and the Pawn Brokers (borrowed from Rob Bartlett)
- Blind Oedipus and the Mississippi Mother F@#kers
- Big Boss Hogg and the Hazards
- Wrong Way Corrigan and the Navigators
- Capn’ Ahab Johnson and the Moby Dicks
Now, let’s see what some of you creative types can come up with.