What is an 8 bar blues?

Most blues songs are based on a 12 bar form. There are also many blues songs that use an 8 bar form. We are going to take a look at some classic examples of these

Introduction

12 bar blues guitarist

We took a look at the 12 bar blues already. Now we are going to focus on the 8 bar blues, and concentrate on a few main examples of this.

If at a jam someone calls out a 12 bar blues then it is usually quite clear what the chord sequence will be. This is not the case with an 8 bar blues. There are several possibilities, often associated with certain songs, so it is good to know the songs too.

On the bandstand the song might be called out as a reference to the chord sequence, even if that’s not the song you will play! It is easier to call out “Worried Life Blues” chords in E rather than detailing the chord sequence.

We are going to be using at total of 5 different chords for most of these 8 bar blues examples. We will use the I, IIm, IV, V and VIm chords. This charts shows which chords to use in several different keys:

Key I Chord IIm Chord IV Chord V Chord VIm Chord
E F#m E A B C#m
G G Am C D Em
A A Bm D E F#m
B B Dm E F# G#m
C C Dm F G Am
D D Em G A Bm

So let’s dive into the world of the 8 bar blues:

Worried Life Blues chords

Let’s start here this is a 8 bar blues from the 1920’s

I I IV IV
I V I IV I V

This superb version by Big Maceo is in C:

C C F F
C G C F C G

Just Your Fool chords

Another noteable song using this chord sequence is "Just your fool" by Little Walter.

I I IV IV
I V I IV I V

Watch out as some songs like this one are have instrumental breaks which are standard 12 bars.

Some 8 bar blues have a bridge or a middle 8. Just your fool has the following bridge:

IV I IV I
IV I V V

Here it is, in the key of A, remember the intro and solos are 12 bar blues:

Verse:

A A D D
A E A D A E

Bridge:

D A D A
D A E E

It Hurts Me Too chords

This is the same structure as Worried Life Blues, except bar 6 has the V chord followed by the IV chord:
I I IV IV
I V IV I IV I V

Here is the Elmore James version in D:

D D G G
D A G D G D A

Key to the Highway chords

Key to the highway is popular in blues jams. The song has a rich history.

I V IV IV
I V I IV I V

This recording is probably the most well know, featuring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. The song fades in because the producer Tom Dowd missed the start of the song as he went to the bathroom!

A E D D
A E A D A E

Trouble in Mind chords

There are quite a few jazzy versions of this song. These are the chords for the blues version:

I V I IV
I VIm IIm V I IV I V

A very young Janis Joplin recorded this in D, complete with a typewriter in the background...

D A D G
D Bm Em A D G D A

Need Your Love So Bad chords

Now we are getting more complex, harmonically speaking. Look out for bar 4, its the IV chord with the root moved up a half step.

Bars 5 and 6 are also interesting. It is a common chord sequence sometimes called a 1625 turnaround because of the chords I VI II and V. This can also be found in a Jazz blues progression, in fact this song can be seen as a truncated Jazz blues. When soloing over these chords use a combination of the minor and major pentatonic and you should be good!

I I IV #IVdim7
I VIm IIm V I IV I V

And it also has a bridge, with a couple of new chords that we haven't seen so far...

IV #IVdim7 I V I
II II V bVI V

Again, many people covered this song, including B.B.King, but here is an early version of Fleetwood Mac, with Peter Green on guitar:

A A D D#dim7
A F#m Bm E A D A E
D D#dim7 A E A
B B E F E

Ain't Nobody's Business chords

As we are focusing on blues here let's look at Freddy King's version of this classic. Something new here is the III chord in the second bar.

Otherwise it is pretty similar to Need Your Love So Bad, but the VI and the II chords are major, so called secondary dominants.

I III IV #IVdim7
I VI II V I IV I V

And it also has a bridge, very similar to Need your love so bad.

IV #IVdim7 I V I
II II V V

Here Freddy plays it in C#.

C# F F# F##dim7
C# A# D# G# C# F# C# G#

And here is the bridge:

F# F##dim7 C# G# C#
D# D# G# G#

Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out chords

This 8 bar blues is another classic you will come accross often, but it can be tricky if you are not familiar with the structure. At least there is no bridge to worry about!

I III VI IIm VI IIm
IV #IVdim7 I VI II V

Eric Clapton plays it in C, here is a version from his unplugged album:

C E A Dm A Dm
F F#dim7 C A D G

Darling, You Know I Love You chords

We are going to finish with 2 BB King classics. He played these "blues ballads" frequently in his shows and there are some amazing renditions of them on the web.

Darling I know I love you was often played as an instrumental, the chord sequence should be familiar from previous ecxamples. What is new here is the IVm chord in bar 4.

I I IV IVm
I VI IIm V I IV I V

And it also has a bridge.

IV IVm I I
II II V V

This version in Ab is as sweet as can be!

Ab Ab Db Dbm
Ab F Bbm Eb Ab Db Ab Eb

And it also has a bridge

Db Dbm Ab Ab
Bb Bb Eb Eb

Nightlife chords

Finally BB again very much in the vein of the previous tune, but a slightly different in the bridge. The original was written by Willie Nelson, but BB gives it a blues feel.

I I IV IVm
I VI IIm V I IV I V

And it also has a bridge

IV IVm I I
IV IVm II V

Here BB sings it in C:

C C F Fm
C A Dm G C F C G

Bridge

F Fm C C
F Fm D G

Conclusion

The 8 bar blues is great to play and it can make a good refreshing change when inserted between a set of 12 bar blues. blues.

We have taken a look at a few well known 8 bar blues, if you study these then you should be ready at any blues jam, when an 8 bar is called.