What makes a song a classic, stand the test of time, or instantaneously recognizable? In every genre, there is a song that is directly associated with the music, and can even define the essence of it. For example, even if you do not fancy yourself a classical music fan, chances are your ears would immediately point out Beethoven’s fifth symphony. For jazz, “the Saints Go Marching In,” pop, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, and what bar doesn’t play “Free Bird” at least three times per night. The list can go on and on right?
Memorable songs contain essential elements for their specified style. They have catchy hooks, and or lyrics and burrow their way deep into our brains infecting us for hours or even days on end. Classic songs are just that for a reason. They are timeless and survive no matter how drastic the shift in music is.
Like all other genres, blues has many insanely catchy and popular tunes. I’m sure plenty of songs just popped into your head like sudden fireworks. One particular tune I want to touch on happens to be one of my personal favorites, Stormy Monday.
The original, full name for this iconic blues track is “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad).” Since that was quite a mouthful to say and remember, the name is often shortened to Stormy Monday. Sometimes, it is confused as “Stormy Monday Blues” which is actually a 1942 jazz tune written by Earl Hines and famously played by the Count Basie Orchestra.
The blues song was released in 1947 and was written by the legendary bluesman, Aaron Thibeaux Walker, more commonly known as T-Bone Walker. T-Bone was a pivotal musician and a forerunner of the jump blues and electric blues genres which helped to form today’s blues sound. Walker’s legacy spans many years and he influenced some of our favorite players like Hendrix, Chuck Berry, the Allman Brothers, and B.B. King, who said that “Stormy Monday was his inspiration for getting an electric guitar.” So, this tune was responsible for B.B. King, I’d say that is pretty important.
Stormy Monday was an instant hit and topped the charts back in 1948. It is not only T-Bone Walker’s most popular tune, but is considered “one of the most popular blues standards” and a must listen for all blues musicians. It also can be found in the Grammy, Rock and Roll, and Blues halls of fame.
The song is a slow burning 12-bar blues format that features sultry vocals, jazzy trumpet and sax licks, and T-Bone’s fantastic guitar riffs. This song perfectly exemplifies Walker’s laid back and raw yet slightly polished song style. The lyrics perfectly capture the essence of the blues and what it strives to portray. “They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad. Wednesday’s worse, and Thursday’s also sad.” These lyrics outline what every working-class individual has to deal with week after week.
T-Bone Walker and his songs not only influenced musicians like B.B. King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and many others, but also inspired them to replicate the song in their own voices.
One of the most popular cover versions of Stormy Monday comes from the Allman Brothers Band. Duane and Gregg Allman loved the tune and played it from the time they were young and added it to their band’s repertoire. The song can be found on their iconic album At Fillmore East.
Other great blues versions include Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan (a must listen blues album!), B.B. King, and John Mayall and the Blues Breakers on their album featuring Eric Clapton, and Live At Royal Albert Hall from Cream.
Other versions include a jazzy version by Lou Rawls, a RnB version from singer Latimore, and a fantastic soul rendition from Bobby Bland.