Blues Guitar Lesson: “Stormy Monday” Genealogy

By David Hamburger

There used to be a blues club on the upper East side of Manhattan called “Manny’s Carwash,” which the New Yorker magazine routinely dismissed as “an ad man’s idea of a nightclub.” And there was a kind of manufactured vibe to the place, as a friend of mine once theorized over a round of tall and frosty ones: “It’s like some guy woke up one day and said, ‘Yeah, I know, I’ll start a club! In Manhattan! That’s it! And we’ll have, you know, those neon Bud signs in the window! Yeah! And a brick wall behind the bar! And, live bands, that play – what’s that funky music they always have bands playing in the movies? Blues! That’s it! We’ll get some of those funky blues bands to come play!”

To be fair, they did have their share of good bands, although it seemed at times that their audience was cut from the same cloth as the club’s hypothetical, brick-addled owner. I found myself standing one night behind a particularly inebriated dude who kept bellowing for the band to play “Stormy Monday,” then turning to his girlfriend to grandly explain, “It’s an Allman Brothers song.” Which would have been o.k., because the Allmans did do a pretty damn definitive version of the song on the pretty damn definitive At Fillmore East. Would have been o.k., except that *on* the Fillmore East record Duane Allman *introduces* the song by saying, “Actually, it’s an old T-Bone Walker song.” So, I mean, come on.

The thing is, though, that if you go dig up the original T-Bone Walker version of “Stormy Monday,” it doesn’t sound anything like what Duane and company played that night in 1971. Here’s a latter-day version by T-Bone himself, where he plays in much the same vein as his original recording:

I always thought it was kind of weird that the Allmans’ version was so far afield of the original — until I discovered the missing link: Bobby Bland’s R&B chart-climbing version from 1962, with one Wayne Bennett on guitar. That’s what Duane is talking about on the Fillmore East record, though I never quite caught it at the time. His full intro is, “While we’re doing that blues thing, we’re gonna do an old Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland song. Actually, it’s an old T-Bone Walker song.” T-Bone’s 1947 song, officially titled “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday’s Just As Bad)” to distinguish it Billy Eckstine and Earl Hines’ 1942’s “Stormy Monday Blues,” stuck pretty much to the I, IV and V chords, though it did include plenty of Walker’s already-signature slippery, sliding ninth chord licks.

Bennett, one of those “musicians’ musicians” (who also had a hand in Buddy Guy’s 1968 Vanguard debut “A Man And The Blues”), took those sliding T-Bone licks and incorporated them into a chord progression that was, ironically, much jazzier than the original. Dig it:

I don’t know whether the progression on the Bland version came from Bennett, Bland, or someone else in the studio, but it’s clearly what the Allmans went ahead and built their distinctive chord progression off of for their version of “Stormy Monday.”

Which makes perfect sense given Duane and Gregg’s recollections of playing R&B music with top-forty bands in the early sixties for fraternity parties around the southeastern U.S. Bobby Bland’s “Stormy Monday” would have been just the kind of current single you’d need to know for those gigs, and it was obviously something they were still into playing almost ten years later at the Fillmore shows.

Of course, plenty of people have continued to treat Walker’s song as a straight-up I IV V blues. Check out this Buddy Guy version from the same year as “A Man And The Blues,” featuring the same kind of lean, horn-driven sound he favored on the LP:

And finally I will show you how to play it in all these different styles: