How to Create A Classic Blues Name
Every blues musician has a moniker. They are never simply Joe Roberts. They are Lil’ Blind Joe Death-Rattle Robertson. Classic blues names are long and involved because they were meant to make a lasting impression on an audience before ol’ Death-Rattle moved on down the road. As name lovers, we’ve broke down what makes a classic blues name as well as how to stands out from your peers. Follow these simple steps and you too can have an authentic blues name worthy of Death-Rattle himself.
First you need an adjective. Starting your blues name with “Blind” is always a good move. Great bluesmen such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake, Blind Willie Johnson, and Blind Boy Fuller all used their impairment to market themselves. Using “Blind” as a signifier not only makes a compelling story, but also wins over a sympathetic audience. At the very least, you will have material for a classic blues song.
Another adjective to set you apart is size. Blues musicians often tacked on descriptors like “Big” and “Little” to create a unique identity. Even if it’s only a childhood nickname, it will help people remember you the next time they’re at the record store. You remember Big Boy Crudup and Little Walter. You don’t remember Todd. So either gain or lose 50 pounds. Your blues career just might depend on it.
The third descriptor is location. In the early part of the twentieth century, most people didn’t travel. Even being from another state meant you had been places, seen things. Blues musicians understood this marketing tool and started referring to themselves “Texas Alexander” or “Tampa Red” because it was memorable and made them sound worldly. Unfortunately record companies took advantage of this fact too. They would add locations to musicians’ names to make them appear more authentic to the consumer. If you were a kid from Michigan who wanted to hear genuine delta blues, which record would you buy: John Hurt or Mississippi John Hurt? We thought so.
The last adjective is heaven sent. In the early twentieth century the United States was even more Christian than it is today and many of these church-going folk started cutting records. Christian musicians, like Rev. T.T. Rose and Sister O.M. Terrell, can be heard growling cautionary tales about the devil between pops and hisses of old 78s. And the Christian audience was more than eager to buy these records. Essentially, these Reverends and Sisters had a built-in audience. This is both good and bad. If you only target Christian listeners then you run the risk of alienating the drunkards and ramblers, and they buy records too.
Now that you have your starting adjective, you need a proper name. This is the easiest part. Your proper name can be something typical like Bob, Will, or Rosie. Anything average will work fine. Just avoid a name that sound too regal or grandiose — no Bartholomews, no Anastasias. You are a musician wailing about the plight of everyday life, you shouldn’t sound like an aristocrat.
If you want to be a proper blues musician, you must have a surname that ends with “-son.” It’s just how it is. Here are only a few examples: Lil’ Son Jackson, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tommy Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Tom Dickson, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Lonnie Johnson, Papa Charlie Jackson, Bo Weavil Jackson, Lil’ Son Jackson, Rev. A Johnson, Professor Johnson, and Lulu Jackson.
We saved the most instrumental step for the end. The part that can’t be generalized or made into an easy catch-all. This step, whether you’re a ramblin’ delta bluesman or jug band washboard player, will help you stand out from everyone else on the bandstand. This is your personality. You see, the best blues names are specific. Names like Pigmeat Terry or Little Hat Jones are so individualistic that they can’t be lumped into a vague category or replicated by another musician. There can only be one Sleepy John Estes. And you will not find another Muddy Waters. Like a great company name, your blues name should distinguish you from the crowd and the trend-followers. Because if you don’t create a lasting and memorable name, you will really have a reason to sing the blues.