The lyrics of early traditional blues verses probably often consisted of a single line repeated four times. It was only in the first decades of the 20th century that the most common current structure became standard: the so-called AAB pattern, consisting of a line sung over the four first bars, its repetition over the next four, and then a longer concluding line over the last bars. Two of the first published blues songs, "Dallas Blues" (1912) and "Saint Louis Blues" (1914), were 12-bar blues featuring the AAB structure. W. C. Handy wrote that he adopted this convention to avoid the monotony of lines repeated three times. The lines are often sung following a pattern closer to a rhythmic talk than to a melody.
Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative. The singer voiced his or her "personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, [and] hard times." This melancholy has led to the suggestion of an Igbo origin for blues because of the reputation the Igbo had throughout plantations in the Americas for their melancholic music and outlook to life when they were enslaved
The lyrics often relate troubles experienced within African American society. For instance Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Rising High Water Blues" (1927) tells about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927:
"Backwater rising, Southern peoples can't make no time I said, backwater rising, Southern peoples can't make no time And I can't get no hearing from that Memphis girl of mine."
However, although the blues gained an association with misery and oppression, the lyrics could also be humorous and raunchy as well:
"Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me, Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me, It may be sending you baby, but it's worrying the hell out of me."
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