Category Archives: blues

last of the killer Gs

Check out the amazing typography of the two ‘G’ characters (in “dog” and “rag”) in the headline of this sheet music title page:

cover page for 'Yellow Dog Rag'

That’s from 1914, right at the moment of change between 19th and 20th century musical styles. Scott Joplin was in the terminal stages of the syphilis that killed him, too sick to play, living on his wife’s earnings from running a whorehouse in the Bronx. The hot style had emerged but didn’t have a name yet. The Original Dixieland Jass Band’s watershed hit “Livery Stable Blues” was three years in the future.

W. C. Handy was around 40, an established musician who had made his mark as the bandleader for Mahara’s Minstrels, one of the biggest minstrel shows at the turn of the 20th century. The first formal “blues” song — also by Handy — had been published the year before, and had been a big hit. This rag didn’t sell well, and in 1919 it would be retitled “Yellow Dog Blues” and republished with a new title page that had neither of these killer ‘G’s.