By Orville Johnson

The 1920 recording of “Crazy Blues,” on the Okeh label, by Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds, is often cited as the first blues record. While that may be debatable, it was the first blues 78 rpm to sell a million copies. It eventually sold over two million copies and made Smith a star. In 1994, the recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2011, the song—written by Perry Bradford— was included on the soundtrack of the hit HBO crime series Boardwalk Empire.

The blues of the early ’20s, featuring mostly female singers—and song forms and instrumentation from vaudeville—is referred to as “classic” blues. The sound on the original is very Dixieland jazz-ish with contrapuntal horns and piano rhythm. In my arrangement, I have added some interest by using two different grooves to create more of a verse-chorus feel. I arranged a New Orleans rhumba groove for the verses and switched to a four-to-the-bar walking bass for the choruses. Notice the two verses have different chord progressions. In the chorus, I’ve added a cool descending bass line on the C#m–F#7 change.

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