The “I’m Busted” Blues
When Ray Charles renders “I’m Busted” he sings it like he means it. I’m sure he does. For all his success he saw plenty of hard times in the early years.
Most people who sing the blues with feeling have lived it at some point along the way. If a guy was to sing the line, “My attorney has a significant difference of opinion with my spouse’s counsel as to the correct interpretation of our prenuptial agreement” it just doesn’t carry the same power as “that woman done tore my heart out.”
When I hear a fellow say he has it tough because “the first quarter portfolio statement did not reflect our anticipated yield” I can’t say I feel sorry for him. But when Ray Charles sings “I’m busted” I believe it even though I know he was likely quite well-to-do at the time.
Years ago we added on to our house. The dry-wall man was a fine banjo player. I’d come in from work and have him take a break to show me some licks. My wife had to shoo me out so we could get our new bedroom finished up. When we finished the project we had an open house to celebrate and he brought his band to play.
The lead singer was a red-faced man who sweated profusely as he sang some of the saddest stuff I’d ever heard; things like the Stanley’s “Daddy Please Don’t Drive Drunk No More.” It was a great private concert. After a few songs, I turned to my pal Moose Dooley and said, “I wish I could sing like that.”
Moose said, “Doc, you ain’t drunk enough whiskey to sing like that.”
Moose was right. I never did make much of a blues singer. I’ve had too much good luck to be very authentic in the genre. But at least I did sympathize with the folks who were down on their luck, so I learned to sing a little bit of the blues. It’s like what they say about my mandolin work; “You ain’t bad for a doctor.”
If a man was to say, “Given your chosen profession as a physician your vocal skills have reached a reasonable level of proficiency,” then I would know for a fact they were no blues singer before we struck the first note.
But if a man flops his hat on the sidewalk for tips and sings “I’m Busted,” then I’ll probably sing along with him the best I can and buy him some lunch. I ain’t got the blues, but I know it when I see it.