Blues lyrics are altogether different from, say, lyrics that are cranked out daily at Music Row co-writes, or written by committee for today’s pop artists. But not all blues lyrics are created equal either. Compare the work of a 12-bar blues giant like Willie Dixon, for instance, to the writing of the late Mississippi hill country artist Junior Kimbrough.
Kimbrough, who died in 1998, hailed from the rural area northeast of the more famous Mississippi River Delta that spawned blues giants like Robert Johnson, and played a type of blues that had as much in common melodically with Chuck Berry as it did with his fellow Mississippi musicians. The lyrics and structure of Kimbrough’s song “Meet Me In The City,” about his desire for the woman he loves to meet with him and keep their relationship together, can’t be put in a typical box. The words don’t follow some type of traditional structure, nor do they seem like lyrics that required re-writing and an incubation period. For better or worse, it feels like Kimbrough kept whatever words came out at the time and then moved on to the next song. But then, that’s a dangerous assumption to make, as the lyrics of many artists sound simpler than they really were at the time of their creation.
Several different versions of the song are available and the words vary slightly from recording to recording, as Kimbrough tended to ad-lib a little, and was sometimes hard to understand. There’s the 1999 titular version from the album Meet Me In The City, and another version from the 2009 album First Recordings. The best version may be the near-seven-minute recording from his album All Night Long, which contains lines like And then again my my my my my my my mind’ll change that the other versions don’t include.
Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys is a major proponent of Kimbrough’s work, which may help account for the millions of online streams of Kimbrough’s songs. Auerbach and Black Keys drummer Pat Carney recorded an EP of six of Kimbrough’s songs called Chulahoma, named for the Mississippi town where Kimbrough ran the juke joint where he performed. In these excerpts from the liner notes of Chulahoma, Auerbach discussed Kimbrough’s influence on his life and his own musical approach:
“I was 18 years old … I was away at college, in that little Ohio town. There, alone in my room, I was transformed. It was by this man and the music on that CD … Very suddenly, I was skipping class to play guitar. Shortly thereafter, I’d be dropping out of college altogether. Setting out to find my own way. The bar had been set impossibly high and there was nothing more those professors could help me with. I’d found a new teacher.”
“I feel like a man blessed with some sort of mind and heart connection to the vibrations I find in the music I love,” the notes continue. “The walls came tumbling down and the earth shook when I locked into Junior’s groove. I’ll be forever grateful, forever in awe, and forever indebted to Junior Kimbrough. Someday, I’m gonna meet him in the city and I’ll shake his hand and maybe he’ll play a few songs for me.”