Mar 272012
 

This is the third of 7 blog posts about the songs on my new CD “Big Texas Sky”. As part of this posting, ‘Workin’ Man’ will be available as a FREE download for a limited time.

I had been teaching my middle school music students about the talking blues, a precursor to rap, and I was having them listen to some work songs that had been collected by Alan Lomax for the Smithsonian. I pointed out how the words went along with a rhythm of the work that the singers were doing while they chanted the song. I then assigned them to write their own work song and in order for them to be able to do that I had to model the technique. Oh Mr. Gregory gonna write a rap yo…

I had the kids start out by stomping and clapping a “work beat”and then we found a rhythm that would lay over it so we could fit in the words. Here’s what we came up with as a class:

I’m a workin’ man
I’m chained to the wheel <– I had to explain this to them because I came up with it to get things moving
I’m a workin’ man
They don’t care how I feel
I’m a workin’ man
I’m trying to keep it real
Yeah workin’ man

They got the point and got to work and came up with lots of good lyrics. This is always a fun lesson and we also write blues songs as well. Anyway… The first couple of lines stuck in my head and I wrote them down in my journal and thought nothing of it.

When you perform out live with just you and a guitar and your voice, you try to break things up in the set so that it doesn’t all sound the same. I try some finger style picking, some slide guitar, I use the ukelele, I use a harmonica, etc. I was thinking of trying something acapella in order to break up the consistent use of the guitar and was combing through my notebooks for something to use and remembered the work song lyrics I had written down. I fleshed out the story a bit by making more tongue-in-cheek about a man who works to support his high society girl friend. In the song she’s referred to as ‘Baby’ in the same way that Humphrey Bogart referred to Lauren Bacall.

I work
Cause baby needs a new dress
I work
Cause baby needs a diamond ring
I work
Cause baby needs some red shoes
I work
Baby thinks that I’m a fool

I have performed this for many years by thumping my hand on the body of the guitar and singing acapella. But for the album I decided to arrange it with a heavy bass and junk percussion. The singer’s voice is run through some guitar amp effects and a delay that makes it sound like he’s addressing a union rally. I threw in the slide dobro at the last minute just because I felt it needed that metallic sound of a whining machine and it lends a ‘rawness’ to the whole endeavor.

You can bury me with a shovel in my hand
I’m a working man

Take a listen and let me know what you think. This will be a FREE download until April 3, 2012.

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