Barrelhouse Words

A Blues Dialect Dictionary
Author: Stephen Calt
An exhaustive, engrossing lexicon of blues idioms
Cloth – $125
Paper – $26.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/2009
Cloth: 01/01/2009
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About the Book

This fascinating compendium explains the most unusual, obscure, and curious words and expressions from vintage blues music. Utilizing both documentary evidence and invaluable interviews with a number of now-deceased musicians from the 1920s and '30s, blues scholar Stephen Calt unravels the nuances of more than twelve hundred idioms and proper or place names found on oft-overlooked "race records" recorded between 1923 and 1949. From "aggravatin' papa" to "yas-yas-yas" and everything in between, this truly unique, racy, and compelling resource decodes a neglected speech for general readers and researchers alike, offering invaluable information about black language and American slang.

About the Author

Stephen Calt is the author or coauthor of the blues biographies I'd Rather Be The Devil: Skip James and the Blues and King Of The Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton.


"An impeccably scholarly, irresistibly readable guide to the language heard on the recordings of the great blues singers who were active in the first half of the twentieth century."--Wall Street Journal

"A fascinating and entertaining read."--All About Jazz

"A treat for anyone who loves language, and who sees it as a living, breathing entity."--PopMatters

"A fun book to read through and one that blues record collectors may want to keep on the shelf next to their record collection."--In the Groove, Steve Ramm

"A very useful and mamlishly good book."--Juke Blues

"Miles beyond other attempts at blues dictionaries."--Living Blues


"Others have tried to unlock the meaning of the old blues, but Stephen Calt sets a new standard in this important work. His book will serve as an indispensable guide for blues fans and delight those who love the twists and turns of American vernacular language at its most creative. Whether you are a scholar or just a browser, this learned lexicon belongs on your shelf."--Ted Gioia, author of Delta Blues and The History of Jazz

"Stephen Calt is without question the best and most authoritative writer in the world on the subject of the blues. His work on the blues is not only informative but is highly entertaining, a great pleasure to read."--R. Crumb, cartoonist

"A valuable, unique work. No other book explains as many new, often subtle aspects of the blues language that Stephen Calt has lived with for over forty years."--Kip Lornell, author of The NPR Curious Listener's Guide To American Folk Music