Jerry Beach, a veteran blues artist and guitarist from Shreveport, created one of my favorite blues songs of all time, “I’ll Play the Blues for You.” Jerry knew many triumphs — and paid many dues on the Bossier Strip, a 1960s neon hotbed of music and mischief. There, he even survived five gunshot wounds, intended for his demise and sustained in rapid, blinding succession. At the time, Musicians Local 116 was one of the strongest in the nation. The great Albert King, who recorded the definitive version of the song, probably played a few gigs there himself.  

Someday, someone will write a book on the infamous Bossier Strip, from which I feel Jerry’s great song was drawn. No doubt, at some point I will write about the Bossier Strip and the Shreveport Musicians Union that ruled over it. But for now, I will offer my analysis of this killer song. It is immortal, classic and three-dimensional because of what is masterfully left between the lines.

From the very beginning, the minor tonality sets a mood of darkness, mystery and possible danger. The horns rise in a minor arpeggio, building tension. The singer begins:

If you’re down and out, and you feel real hurt
Come on over, to the place where I work
And all your loneliness, I’ll try to soothe
I’ll play the blues for you

Don’t be afraid, come on in
You might even run across, yeah, some of your old friends
And all your loneliness, I’ll try to soothe
I’ll play the blues for you

A pretty female, uninitiated to this dark, smoky realm of the nightclub, has entered, alone. Not unnoticed by the singer, she is immediately approached. Someone so pretty and innocent is conspicuous and rare to grace these doors. She is on uneven footing, in a strange, dank and shadowy world. She is lonely and afraid. What is she doing here? Don’t be afraid, come on in. Your loneliness, I will try to soothe. I will humbly offer you the only thing in this world that I can possibly offer you: I’ll play the blues for you.

At this point, I’m already feeling the pain and loneliness of these two characters. The singer dwells in this bar stool jungle, a life sentence he has pronounced for himself. He is sadly at home here. He knows pain and can easily recognize it in others. In lonely desperation, he begins his brilliant spoken narrative. But as we all know, desperation can be very unattractive:

Come on in, sit right here, let’s rap awhile
Ya see, I’m kinda lonely, too, ya know?


“Oh, dear,” she thinks, “The minute I walk in, I’m cornered. How does this haggard-looking man presume he’s entitled to talk to me? How does he know I’m lonely?”

And loneliness is a very bad thing if you let it get the best of you
Loneliness can get ya down, ya know?

“He has a point there, ” she observes.

Yeah, yeah, are you comfortable now?
Yeah, yeah, that’s outta sight
Yeah, as I was sayin’ before
Loneliness can get you down, and I have heard of, uh…

Loneliness blowin’ some good people’s minds, ya know?
But ya can’t do that
This is a big world, this is a big world
And there’s too many nice things happenin’ in the world


She thinks, “This poor man doesn’t have a chance with me. I’m much too good for all of this.”

You’re a very pretty girl. Where do you live?

“That does it, I’m leaving…”

No, no, no, disregard that, that’s okay. That’s okay
Most important thing, I wanna know you
I say, I wanna know you


He doesn’t want to blow his chance, just to visit with this lovely creature for a few fleeting moments. The music in the background is irresistible. Then he sings:

I ain’t got no big name
Oh, Lord, I ain’t no big star
But I will play the blues for you on my guitar
And all your loneliness, I will try to soothe
I’ll play the blues for you


And he speaks:

That’s groovy, ain’t it?
‘Scuse me…


This is where he lowers the boom. Without fully realizing the power he possesses at this moment, he casually excuses himself and hits one high, bended note on his guitar that melts the Maybelline right off her eyelashes. He plays a few more notes, a musical vocabulary that is all but routine for him. But she is as dumbstruck as the blues lover listening to the record. With only a few dire, stinging notes of the blues he has offered, she realizes that this man does what he does better than anything she will ever do. He still has no shot with her, but he has brought her face to face with her pretensions, along with every emotion she has ever felt. If she had felt superior on her nauga-high horse, she now knows that she has been decisively and unassumingly trumped.

The instrumental choruses go on and on. His blues continue, seemingly infinite — never short on fresh, air-bending, soul-mending ideas, long after our little powder puff has slipped away, herself now humbled, into the night and back to her own sheltered loneliness.

The blues finally fade to nothing. But the feeling lingers long afterwards. He’ll never know by what lengths he won the upper hand. He’ll never fully know how he blew her mind. He has struck out, and two lonely people will continue to be lonely. But he has made well on that one thing he could offer: I’ll play the blues for you.

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