One of the characteristics of blues is that is draws largely from a common repertoire of basic tunes. A new song was very often not more than a change of some lines to an existing tune either in a live performance or during a studio session, quite frequently just by improvization inspired by the mood or requirements of the moment.
The respect of copyrights has never been a highly regarded principle in the blues genre.
Some tunes which are considered as iconic for the blues are attributed to artists who in fact did no more than adapt an existing song that they heard earlier on 78 or during a life performance.
This week I listened and relistened to the Life at Regal blues performance of B.B. King in 1964, a majestic act which opens with ‘Everyday I have the blues’. When you read the credits on the record for this song, you’ll find the name of Memphis Slim, who recorded the song first in 1949. It was on the repertoire of many blues artists and even Count Basie brought it. It received 2 Grammy Hall Awards.
Credits however are due to the Sparks Brothers from St. Louis who recorded it already in 1935. They went unrecognized for this classic.
Another one which was on the same shelf : “Dust my broom”. There is a debate going on as whether Robert Johnson or Elmore James should be credited for this iconic tune. Robert Johnson recorded it in 1936. Leroy Carr had however already a similar tune in 1934, titled : “I believe I’ll make a change”.
Where dit Leroy Carr get the song? Exactly : from the Sparks Brothers, who recorded it already in 1931 with the same title.
Of course, these are but two examples which can be multiplied. Sometimes the lack of correct credits was unvoluntary, sometimes it was a sheer violation of copyrights from record producers and song publishers. But this is the topic for another post, later.