Defining the Blues Formula
Whether improvised before the microphone or meticulously written down and memorized, blues lyrics conform to one structural pattern: they are formulaic, and the basic unit of blues composition is the whole-line or half-line formula. The idea, however, that blues lyrics are made up of formulaic units is not new. In fact, most scholars who have commented on blues lyrics recognized, either tacitly or explicitly, its formulaic structure. Not all used the word formula in describing this phenomenon, and not all were in agreement on the size or nature of the basic formulaic unit in the blues. But all recognized that there was a traditional storehouse of lyrical material on which singers drew in constructing their songs.