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Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42 (M. Taft)

Joe Offer 07 Sep 09 - 11:48 PM
Jim Dixon 09 Sep 09 - 10:42 AM
Joe Offer 10 Sep 09 - 05:22 AM
Peace 10 Sep 09 - 06:15 PM
Joe Offer 26 Aug 14 - 01:30 AM
Jim Dixon 28 Aug 14 - 12:45 PM
Joe Offer 03 Apr 15 - 01:58 AM
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Subject: Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 11:48 PM

I got really excited when I came across a mention by Bruce Murdoch of Michael Taft's Blues Lyrics Web Concordance. I Googled the title and found lots of information, including this link to the Concordance itself. I sent a gushing message of thanks to Bruce, only to find that I had posted a link to the Concordance in our Links section quite some time ago.
Oh, fer dumb.

So, anyhow, I've been exploring the Concordance. Bruce told me he finds it hard to use, and I agree. It's in a rather weird and wacky frames setup that doesn't quite work - but you can find stuff quite easily in it by using CTRL-F.

As far as I can see, it appears that the Website includes the entire text of Michael Taft's book, Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-1942, which is a phenomenal collection of blues lyrics with a very bad indes - the lyrics are indexed only by performer name.

The paperback edition of the book is $29.95, and the hardcover edition $115. The book would be a lot more usable if it were indexed by song title, and not only by performer. I'd also like to see background and discography information on each song, but that's asking too much.

I'll admit that I enjoy looking through the book, but I wonder if I would have bought the book if I had known it was available online.

What experiences have other people had with the book and the website, and what can you tell me about Michael Taft?

Are there other anthologies of blues lyrics that you would recommend? I have to say that the Taft book really enhances my enjoyment of old blues recordings, because now I can actually understand the lyrics.


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Subject: RE: Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42 (M. Taft)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 09 Sep 09 - 10:42 AM

"Oh, fer dumb!"—Pardon my digression, but that's a Minnesota expression. Since you use it, I figure it must also be a Wisconsin expression, or else you have been listening carefully to "A Prairie Home Companion." Are you familiar with Howard Mohr's book "How to Talk Minnesotan"? I see Mohr has developed it into quite an institution: There's a book, a video, an audiobook on tape or CD, a musical version, and "a Minnesota Language Systems Study Guide"!

Yes, I have run across the Blues Concordance a number of times. It comes up with a Google search, if you're searching for a phrase that happens to be in one of those old songs. Of course, if you get there via a link from Google, you don't see the page the way it was designed to be seen; you don't see the adjacent frames, so it's even harder to understand what you're seeing.

There IS discographical data in the database, for example, on this page, on the top line, you see that the quote comes from J. T. "Funny Pages" Smith's recording of HONEY BLUES, which was recorded in Chicago around March, 1931; issued on the Vocalion label with matrix number 126 and catalog number 1633; and reissued on the Yazoo label on LP 1031.

However, I had to consult a couple of other web sites in order to confirm that I had the correct interpretation of this data:
The Online 78-rpm Discographical Project and

If you're looking for discographical information, you might just want to consult those sites in the first place.

Honking Duck has a handy index to The Online 78-rpm Discographical Project, but it doesn't have the whole database indexed yet. I usually look at Honking Duck first, and then, if I don't find what I want, but I'm pretty sure it ought to be there, I go directly to The Online 78-rpm Discographical Project.

Occasionally, I have found what I consider to be mondegreens within the concordance. (Unfortunately, I can't think of any examples right now.) On the whole, the concordance is pretty good, though. But if you want a really accurate transcription (which isn't always possible) it's a good idea to listen to the original recording, if you can, and compare it to the concordance's lyrics. You might be able to make some corrections, or at least figure out that the concordance's lyrics are somewhat speculative.

I suppose the concordance isn't being updated or corrected. I couldn't find any invitation to email corrections to them.

Recordings of old blues songs can sometimes be found at – but not always. I guess it depends on whether they consider it "jazz" or not. I guess one of the conditions for "jazz" is that you need a backup band. A solo singer with a guitar is not considered "jazz". Some blues singers that did have bands and are therefore included are Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Lucille Bogan, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, etc.

Apparently "jazz" and "blues" are overlapping categories. If you sing a blues song with a jazz accompaniment, it's both.

There was a Michael Taft who worked for the Library of Congress, but I'm not sure it's the same person. lists lots of books by "Michael Taft" but there might be more than one Michael Taft. Maybe one of the other books would contain some biographical information about him.

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Subject: RE: Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42 (M. Taft)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Sep 09 - 05:22 AM

Refresh. Any more information about Taft and his blues work?

Talkin' to Myself says that the author Michael Taft is head of the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress's American Folklife Center, and is author of The Blues Lyric Formula and Blues Lyric Poetry: A Concordance. Talkin' was published in 1983, with a revised edition published in 2005.

Talkin' has a nice little biography of every performer indexed. I didn't find the biographies in the online edition.

Here's an excerpt from Sing Out! Magazine on the Archive of Folk Culture:
    In related news, the AFC has appointed Save Our Sounds project director Michael Taft to head the Center's Archive of Folk Culture. This appointment makes him the eighth in a line of distinguished folklorists to hold the position since the archive was first created in the Library of Congress in 1928 as the Archive of American Folk Song. Previous heads include John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax, Duncan Emrich and Joe Hickerson. Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975) was another
    Housing more than two million items of ethnographic material, the Archive of Folk Culture has been one of the great centers for the study of folk music and other ...

    Sing Out, March 22, 2003.


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Subject: RE: Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42 (M. Taft)
From: Peace
Date: 10 Sep 09 - 06:15 PM

Try asking if it's possible to contact Mr Taft via this link.

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Subject: RE: Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42 (M. Taft)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 01:30 AM

The concordance Website has disappeared, but it's still available through's Wayback Machine:

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Subject: RE: Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42 (M. Taft)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 12:45 PM

Thanks for finding that, Joe. I have now bookmarked the new location.

Nowadays, though, when you're looking for a blues song, it's often possible to find the original recording on Spotify. I'd prefer to listen to it and make my own transcription rather than trust the transcription I find in Taft's database, which contains many errors.

The database is still useful, though, if you don't know which song you're looking for, and you're just starting with a quote. It's also useful for finding a group of related songs which all contain some lines in common, even though they may have different titles.

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Subject: RE: Talkin' To Myself: Blues Lyrics 1921-42 (M. Taft)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 03 Apr 15 - 01:58 AM

I corresponded with Michael Taft a while ago. He hadn't known that the Concordance Website wasn't working any more. It's working now:

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