I will likely not post all my DJ sets, but this post is a follow up on my previous post on Blues Music 101.
People often ask about what would separate a great DJ to a good DJ. I feel a good DJ plays great music that the crowd likes and dances to. A great DJ plays great music, reads the crowd, and can shift the energy of the floor. I don't want to get into a lot on DJ theory during this post, but I wanted to shed some thoughts I have on some Blues DJ'ing since I cross over between the lindy hop and blues worlds.
First a few tips about blues DJ sets:
Blues music has a variety of different styles and tempos. I think too often blues DJ’s fall into playing only on genre. Everyone is going to have a favorite genre. For me, it’s slower Jazz. I love New Orleans Jazz and find myself most creative in dancing to it. I tend to play more what I would consider “classic/traditional” vs. contemporary music. I think it gets back to pure forms of the music and dance.
I think it’s important to switch up between the genres of music throughout a blues set. I try to expose students to all the different genres throughout lessons, especially during musicality exercises. The different genres call for different movements and moods. It’s important not to be a “roller coaster” DJ switching genres too quickly. The same applies for tempos. I think it’s reasonable to play songs at similar tempos over a period of 3-5 songs as long as the feel of the song is different. 15 minutes of the same tempo/genre/feel can easily kill the energy of a dance floor.
With that said, below is the most recent set I played. A few background notes/thoughts I was thinking about:
- Audience: My audience consisted of mostly beginner dancers who had just learned basic blues dancing.
- Music Selection: After discussion of blues music using food and other analogies to refer to sex, I was encouraged to play some of my “dirty” music. Maybe sometime, I’ll write about the “dirtiest songs” in my collection, but that will need to be another time. I repeated some artists to feature artists or tracks people asked about. Sound quality is important as old blues/jazz recordings aren’t the best sound quality. I also mixed in some songs used during the lessons.
- Tempo: I varied tempo and varied genres throughout the 90 minute set. You will also see a portion where tempo was very close across 5 songs, but the feel of the music was different.
- Length of Song: I generally try to vary time length. It was a smaller group at the dance so I attempted to keep the 4:00+ songs to a minimum to encourage switching partners and keep a “fresh” feeling among the room. I also wanted to build some confidence in case some of the new beginners didn’t feel they ran out of ideas or “moves” they could do.
I would say I was fairly conservative being I was playing for a beginner crowd and played some good standards. Overall, I got good feedback and response from the crowd.
1. "Tain’t Nobody’s Business if I do” - Ernestine Anderson - 77 BPM - 4:31
People just start arriving - trying to create ambiance with first 2 songs
2. "Need your love so bad” - B.B. King & Sheryl Crow - 76 BPM - 3:57
3. “(Night Time is) the Right Time” - Ray Charles - 81 BPM - 3:24
Time to get the dance kicked off with a classic
3. "I ain’t got Nobody” - Big Maybelle - 81 BPM - 2:53
Respond to “soulful” female vocal call/response to Ray Charles in previous song
4. "The World’s Jazz Crazy” - Claire Austin - 84 BPM - 2:45
Let’s move into some Jazz - song had symbolism in lyrics too
5. "When I get low, I get High” - Gordon Webster - 113 BPM - 5:27
Pick up tempo
6 "St. James Infirmary” - New Orleans All Star Stompers - 66 BPM - 3:07
Some of the beginners looked challenged by faster tempo, so slowed down with recognizable tune in a different style than traditional versions of this song
7. "Nobody Knows you when you’re down and out” - Bessie Smith - 92 BPM - 2:58
Transition song - classic Blues
8. “Walk on” - Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee - 115 BPM - 3:14
This song has a little speaking intro part - now playing with instrumental feel
9. "Dirty Low Down and Bad” - Keb’ Mo’ - 100 BPM- 3:07
Contemporary blues - keeping tempo moving - strong guitar sound
10. "I Got Rambling on my Mind” - Otis Spann - 89 BPM - 4:07
Chicago Blues - slowing down a little adding piano to transition to next song
The last 3 songs had guitar as a primary instrument, but had completely different feels.
11. "All Over Again” - B.B. King & Mark Knopfler - 83 BPM - 4:54
12. “My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More” - Alberta Hunter - 103 BPM - 3:46
First of 3 “dirty” songs played by request/suggestion
13. Shave ‘Em Dry II” - Lucille Bogan - 115 BPM - 3:22
This is not the best version of the song, but I played it because this song doesn’t disguise the “dirty.”
14. "Three Time Lose” - Linda Hopkins - 82 BPM - 2:24
I was listening to a women in jazz/blues documentary so I think I was inspired to play some sassy “woman power” music
15. “How Many More Years” - Howlin’ Wolf - 99 BPM - 2:51
16. “Love in Vain” - Robert Johnson - 85 BPM - 2:21
17. “You Know My Love” - Otis Rush - 78 BPM - 2:42
18. “Blue Drag” - Django Reinhardt -111 BPM - 2:56
One of my favorite songs - it has a quiet intro so it worked as a great transition back into some Jazz
19. "Egyptian Fantasy” - Kenny Davern - 90 BPM - 4:01
Another favorite - played it in particular for my friend Justin who was DJ’ing next.
20. “Horn Man Blues” - Dr. Michael White - 73 BPM - 7:01 (faded this one out)
Song 3 of “dirty” - this starts the streak of “woman power”
21. "A Good Man is Hard to Find” - Big Maybelle - 86 BPM - 2:12
22. “Mannish Boy” - Muddy Waters - 72 BPM - 2:57
A little intermission and response to “woman power”
23. “Backlash Blues” - Nina Simone - 77 BPM - 2:29
24. “I’ll Never Be Free” - Lavern Baker - 72 BPM - 2:22
25. “Mean Old World” - Snooks Eaglin - 75 BPM - 3:51
26. “Kind Hearted Woman” - Big Head Blues Club ft. Ruthie Foster - 75 BPM - 4:08
27. “Blues in the Night” - Eva Cassidy - 70 BPM - 4:08
Notice similar tempo of last 6 songs, but all had different feel. I played the Eva Cassidy track in response to a discussion to the unfortunate dancing “sexy” to her “popular” cover of the traditional gospel tune “Wade in the Water.”