Blue SongNotes Blue River & Blue

Jamie O’Reilly
Blue River and Blue

Writing more and more to the sound of music, writing more and more like music. Sitting in my studio tonight, playing record after record, writing, music a stimulant of the highest order, far more potent than wine.

Anais Nin diary

Blue River was recorded by the salty chanteuse Sophie Tucker in 1927. It was also recorded by many others including Al Jolson and the jazz-cornet player Bix Beiderbecke. It was written by Joseph Meyer, music; Alfred Bryan, lyrics. The first recording of “Blue River” was by either The Harmonizers (July 22, 1927) or The Original Dixie Rag Pickers (sometime in July, 1927). I found the sheet music in the Harold Washington Library, downtown Chicago in an era before audio files and streaming were available. I added it to my music sets and recorded the song two times. It’s featured in my Tough Broads and Tender Lasses: Song of Resilience program.

First recording: on my Souvenir album in 2008, with Michael Smith and Peter Swenson, guitars; Bob Weber, cello and John Floeter, bass. Peter engineered and mixed from his home studio.

Listen to Jamie sing Blue River from Souvenir

Blue River

I recorded Blue River accompanied by piano with John Erickson in 2015 at WFMT Levin Studio, on my In Old Chicago EP, with Mary Mazurek, engineer, using an old 1930s style ribbon microphone.

Listen here to Blue River with John and Jamie

Blue River with John Erickson

The Lucinda Williams song Blue compelled me from the start. When putting together a show, it’s thrilling to put a perfect, evocative song like this in the middle of the set, when the house has gotten into your groove, and folks want to sit back and be in a tune. I hear audience sigh when we finish this number. My favorite lyric: “Raven, feathers shiny and black, a touch of blue glistening down her back.”

Blue River lyrics

Tell me why a song is sad, Never glad
Blue river, Blue river
Do you hold a memory of a vanished dream?
Sing to me on lips I press
And caress, Blue river, Blue river
′Til I saw my hopes go drifting down a stream

Can’t we all forget that bright
Summer night?
In our little canoe
But our blue eyes lost the light
As we whispered, “I do”
When I hear your lonesome song
I know that something′s wrong
Blue river, Blue river
Maybe it’s because I’m just as blue as you

Blue, Jamie O’Reilly Trio Bob Weber, cello

Words and Music by Lucinda Williams
Go find a jukebox
And see what a quarter will do
I don’t want to talk
I just want to go back to blue
Feeds me when I’m hungry
And quenches my thirst
Loves me when I’m lonely
And thinks of me first

Blue is the color of night
When the red sound disappears from the sky
Raven feathers shiny and black
A touch of blue glistening down her back

We don’t talk about heaven
And we don’t talk about hell
We’ve come to depend on
One another so damn well
So go to confession
Whatever gets you through
You can count your blessings
I’ll just count on blue

Jamie and John perform these songs and more for the May Day Salon at Tre Kronor, Sun May 5 at 7:00 PM, on an evening featuring jazz piano. More on our event page here: