IN PAST COLUMNS, I’VE TALKED ABOUT THE intimate relationship between the blues and jazz, but another perspective on this connection was shared with me many years ago by the great bluesman Robert “Junior” Lockwood. A protégé of the legendary Robert Johnson, former traveling partner of Johnny Shines, session player for Chess Records, sideman for Little Walter, and a genuine blues artist in his own right, Robert Junior was the real deal. One night on a break, he explained the difference between jazz and blues very simply: “If it (the song) doesn’t have a bridge (B section), it’s blues. If it has a bridge, then it’s jazz.” The logic behind this statement is somewhat convoluted, and doesn’t really hold up to close examination, but who am I to argue with a man who learned to play guitar from Robert Johnson? So in that spirit, let’s take a look at some blues bridges.
“Bridge” is a musical term that has a few different meanings, but the simplest definition is a section of music that differs from the main body of the tune. In an AABA song form, the B section is the bridge. In a verse/chorus pop song structure, the bridge is often a third section that creates a different vibe from the rest of the tune. In blues, a bridge is usually an eight-bar section that gets played in between a set number of A sections, often following the AABA format (the A section being a 12-bar blues form, typically). The following examples give only the numerical chord changes, as the specific bass lines will vary depending on the tune. Example 1 is a classic bridge that goes to the IV chord—while there are several possible choices, when someone yells “take it to the bridge,” most likely you’ll go to the IV chord. This particular variant can be found in Lazy Lester’s blues classic “I Hear You Knocking” (not to be confused with tunes of the same name by Fats Domino or Quicksilver Messenger Service). This bridge gets a little twist when applied to Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance”— the II major chord shows up in bar 7 to create a longer resolution back to the I chord, as shown in Ex. 2. In Louis Jordan’s “Blue Light Boogie,” the II chord occurs in the 5th bar of the bridge, as shown in Ex. 3. Example 4 is another common bridge that goes to the IV, and can be heard in Freddie King’s “Sidetracked.” It bounces from the IV back to the I three times, then adds a VI-IIV movement at the end of the phrase to seal the deal when returning to the I chord in the A section.
The previous examples represent the most common bridge forms in the blues genre, but certainly anything is possible. Unless you know for a fact that a tune does not have a bridge, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes open for a cue at the end of the second chorus of the 12-bar form. If a bridge is part of the song, it will most likely happen then. Until next month, y’all keep it down low and in the groove!
From his bass base in Austin, Texas, Ed Friedland keeps his chops up by writing instructional books and playing in a number of blues, country, and jazz groups. Find more at edfriedland.com.