The Blues is filled with mysticism, hoodoo and the power of the Black Cat Bone. Seminal Blues guitarist Robert Johnson claims he sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads in exchange for becoming the greatest musician ever.  He is — and was dead at 27.

The Blues was originally judged by the Middling American Middle to be the work of the Devil because of the terrible sound — the flatted fifth — the music made.

The Black Cat Bone still resonates today in The Blues — and the origin of the practice of removing and using the bone is mythically stunning:

Cook the body of a black cat in boiling water with white seeds and wood from the willow until the meat is loosened from the bones. Strain the bones in a linen cloth and, in front of the mirror, place the bones, one by one in your mouth, until you find that you have the magic to make you become invisible. Keep the bone with the magic property and, if you want to go somewhere without being seen, place the bone in your mouth.

It seems the trick to extracting the Black Cat bone is to boil the cat alive to preserve its magic.  Don’t try this at home!  We’re looking back through history and not giving you the recipe for divining a Black Cat Bone.

I’ve heard other stories that the Black Cat Bone is revealed to be the one bone that rises to the top of the boiling water.

Or the Black Cat Bone is the first bitter tasting bone after the boiling.

I’ve also been told if you throw all the boiled bones into a Northern flowing river — not a convenient thing to find in the world — the Black Cat Bone is the first bone to float Southward.  I don’t think that test works in reverse.

The supernatural strength the Black Cat Bone gives the holder of the bone the power of invisibility — so you can control and scare people and get information — and you can also resurrect a dead lover.

Revenge.  Control.  Yearning.  They all sing for The Blues.  Here’s proof as the impossibly talented Albert Collins performs — “Black Cat Bone.”

Johnny Winter conjures up his Black Cat Bone:

Slide guitar master Roy Rogers — of the John Lee Hooker Band — also gives his Black Cat Bone a scream:

The Blues is deeply steeped in historic Southern Mysticism, Black Magic and Ritualistic Healing — the Holy Trinity of True American Folklore — and all those cultural totems make The Blues melodies and rhythms pounce into an ethereal manifestation that mere mortals can never quite understand, but can never really forget in the marrow.

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

87 Comments

  1. Love me some blues, but that Black Cat Bone is some freaky stuff! I have never heard of that before. Interesting.

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    1. prafeston —

      Thanks for the comment and welcome to Boles Blues!

      Yes, the Black Cat Bone is definitely a strange — and slightly scary — oddity. We often think of musical mysticism associated with New Orleans Jazz, but Memphis and her Blues, are also right there with the surreal.

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  2. Very interesting. Thanks for the blog.

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    1. Thanks, Mick, and welcome to the blog!

      I suppose there’s a little Black Cat Bone in each of us.

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  3. Great article, David — and very powerful stuff! The imagery is quite potent!

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    1. Thanks, Gordon!

      Belief is a powerful thing. If you have faith in something, and plan your day around that certainty, then curious and strong things can begin to happen.

      I love that Albert Collins video. It takes the entire idea of a Black Cat Bone to a surrealistic plane.

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    1. Thank you for reading the article, and we appreciate you comment!

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  4. Thanks Folks for all this good stuff. I love Chicago blues and that’s why I play my electric harp so often..I will perform the black cat bone lyrics too.
    Warm regards from hot Italy
    Carlo

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    1. It’s a delight to meet you, Carlo, and I thank you for helping to keep The Blues alive in performance!

      Give us a video link when you have one for your Black Cat Bone!

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  5. Nice read, and nice music as well. I’m a big fan of the blues, yet have never heard this before. May it be strange, but it’s still good music! =)

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    1. Hey Adam!

      Welcome to Boles Blues and thanks for your comment.

      I’m a big Blues fan, too, and learning about the real meaning of Black Cat Bone was a fascination for me and I’m glad it was worth sharing in this article.

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  6. P.S.
    I’m now over on YouTube listening to blues while surfing the web. Thanks! HA

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    1. That’s the only way to fly, Adam! You get all the highs and lows surrounding you.

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  7. Got to love the blues mysticism. Great read! I just love looking into blues mysticism and mythology. Yoruba mythology (maybe) and Christian influences really played into some great music

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    1. You’re right about that, Matt. Religion and musicality are bled to blend with each other as expressions of the soul. We have to be careful how we allow ourselves to be tempered inside because the end result will pave our pathways into the future.

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  8. Very interesting article! Great music too!
    Love it!

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    1. It’s good to meet you, Aline. I like your music blog and I’m thrilled you have a soft spot for The Blues!

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  9. So good to hear those who listen to music that makes one think….Today’s music scene is oblivious collection of left-out-in the open food from previous nights…It is sad that this blues artist died at such an early age however his accomplisment of putting
    out good ole back-room blues did exactly what it was suppose to do. (Live in the souls of many to come)… In order to keep
    the blues alive, it takes people like yourself to put it to paper.

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    1. I think you’re onto something, Kraig. The Blues does force you to think and feel about things some prefer to left unsaid and dead in history. Today’s modern music asks you to forget it as soon as it enters your ears.

      There are few people who would turn down Robert Johnson’s deal with the Devil. He gave up his soul for the immortality of his music.

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  10. Finally watched the videos. Last one is great love it. Don’t put down all new music. There are a small group of artists that are still in it for the music and aren’t selling out to the masses to make a buck! I just wish the masses would appreciate them more. It’s sad that people like Lady Gaga are getting immortalized now…sad sad sad!

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    1. You were caught by Akismet, prafeston. I wonder if it was your reference to Lady Gaga? Ha! I actually prefer her to most of the newer acts — Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Britney — because she has musical training and a dedicated style of performance. She, at least, means and intends something.

      I don’t think selling to the masses is a bad thing if you have an aesthetic. Eric Clapton is a deep water Bluesman — and yet he has great mainstream acceptance and tons of money.

      We have celebrated some new acts in our Blogs Network. Hey Monday is one of them:

      http://bolesblues.com/2009/12/14/some-of-our-favorite-music-articles/

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      1. To tell the truth, I haven’t heard much of any of those people you talk of…and I’m in my mid 20s…so it’s not like am an old fart or anything! haha. I just enjoy more indie groups and local acts.

        I agree there is nothing wrong with “selling” out…if you can even call it that. If you make music that just happens to please the masses then you can’t really consider it selling out. Agreed to that Eric Clapton is a great musician. One of the first CDs I stole from my dad was Slow Hand.

        I’ll have to check out your blog a bit more. I post every Wednesday a song of the day.

        P.S. I might have been caught by Akismet cause I’ve commented several times on your blog and another one that is currently in the Freshly Pressed.

        P.P. S. How exactly do you get featured on Freshly Pressed?

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        1. It’s good you’re open to new and old music, prafeston. Clapton is a magnificent musician and most anything he does has great resonance throughout history if you know where to listen.

          I would go here: http://akismet.com/contact/ and click on the option that says Akismet is catching your comments as Spam. Believe me, Automattic and WordPress.com WANT you posting a lot — and they would want to know that Akismet is mistakenly marking you as a Spammer.

          Getting on Freshly Pressed is a fascinating topic. Watch http://UrbanSemiotic.com tomorrow as I write an article sussing it all out for you and others who might be interested.

          Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  11. Cool post! As a novice blues enthusiast, this was really interesting to read about.

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    1. Ah! You’re in for a great learning curve! As you begin to explore The Blues, and it roots, you will begin to see really interesting connections between artists and genres and how The Blues arcs throughout American music history in so many important ways.

      The New Old Masters like Eric Clapton and Gary Moore and even Joe Bonamassa all honor the old masters in their current music with riffs, melodies and harmonies from the birth of the blues.

      Here’s a great video for you, Sammy Davis, Jr. singing “Birth of the Blues” —

      Here’s Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong doing the same tune together —

      MAGIC!

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      1. Awesome, thanks for sharing

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        1. It’s my pleasure and honor. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  12. Thanks for the info on contacting Akismet. Look forward to reading your article tomorrow on Freshly Pressed.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by today, prafeston! It’s been a pleasure meeting you.

      I didn’t have you fish your last comment out of Akismet. We’re marking progress!

      Yes, tomorrow’s Urban Semiotic article should be helpful — I hope! SMILE!

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  13. Hope I’m not being annoying, but I just remembered we had some great bands come through the studio when I was in college. We had a music show in the video department called DU Uncut. We basically recorded acts live in our studio and we had some great blues bands come through.

    Kent Burnside, Miss Blues and the Blues Notes, Eric Hughes Band, and an up and coming young group called Homemade Jamz’ Blues Band.

    Enjoy!

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    1. Those are some great links, thanks!

      Celebrating great talent is never annoying!

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  14. nice blog. i’ve been around awhile but had never heard of this before. thanks for turning me on to it. good stuff.

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    1. Thanks, John! I appreciate your comment and your kind insight. I’ve been around awhile, too — SMILE! — and when I first heard about the Black Cat Bone, I was totally overwhelmed with curiosity.

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  15. So fascinating! Thanks for this, it gives me a new way to look at the music I love.

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    1. Hello Dead!

      I wonder if there’s any Black Cat Bone in the idea of your blog?

      You’re right that this gives us a whole new way to look at the inspirations — and the fears — music can calm and foment within us.

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  16. Yikes! I had never heard that about black cat bones. Maybe that’s why so many black cats go missing! They end up in a pot, cooked alive! I was laughing as I imagined someone believing they were invisible. I used to study a little black magic and it seems like whatever a person believes actually becomes the truth….but to be invisible….now that would be nice.

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    1. Shantara —

      You make many important points that deserve further conversation.

      You’re right about Black Cats going missing. Some people kill them on sight. Others capture them for torture to “beat the devil” out of them.

      The “bewitched” want the black cats for companionship, while the unlucky avoid them, and some hoodoo practitioners in and around certain areas of New Orleans want them for the boiling! Poor things!

      Have you ever held an entirely black cat in your hands in a dimly lighted room? The light disappears between your palms and it looks like the only thing you’re holding are glowing eyes blinking back at you in the dark!

      The invisibility cloak — with the Black Cat Bone — often requires an assistant to tell the bone tester that they’ve become invisible, because if you don’t have a mirror or a pool of water or a shiny surface, you have no idea you’ve disappeared!

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  17. […] the article here: American Folklore and the Blues Black Cat Bone Share and […]

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  18. freaky stuff..but i love blues very much

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    1. I think freaky is the right word! Thanks for reading the article and leaving a comment!

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  19. Nice music. Albert Collins was superb. The Sinatra-Armstrong was special. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Hi ullas!

      Yes, Albert Collins is a monster talent. Such power! He rocks the stage with that telecaster. Love that tone of his.

      I agree with you that Sinatra-Armstrong was amazing — and it’s funny because they obviously didn’t rehearse the song together at all — they fumble around and look at each other for cues on what to do next. It’s magnificent because it is real and that’s what happens when two mega-talents come together and make beautiful music together: Magic for the Ages happens!

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  20. They don’t come around everyday, but the story of the black cat bone is one of those unknown facts that once revealed is shown to be unforgettable and essential! Thanks for passing it along and for sharing the fantastic music videos.

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    1. Heya sweepyjean —

      Thanks for visiting and reading and commenting! You’re right that the Black Cat Bone has been a well-kept secret from mainstream society — and I suppose that’s good in a way… for the darling black cats!

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  21. Excellent, informative and interesting post! I had never heard of the “Black Cat” before or its origins. Thanks for posting this! Loved Albert Collins version.

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    1. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a big Albert Collins fan. He doesn’t get as much credit as he should for all the wild hard work he did over his life to reinvent the modern Blues played on a Fender Telecaster!

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  22. Interesting post and comments.
    Thanks for the great videos.
    We were great fans of Chicago and Delta blues when I lived in Dublin. The local Mary Stokes Band used to attract great acts to the Wexford Inn (as it was then).

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    1. Your blog is a fascinating read. The Blues is definitely and American export that has actually grown in value over the last century or so. The USA English Rock invasion in the 1960’s got its boost in The Blues and music hasn’t been the same since.

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  23. Being a blues fan I have always taken the ‘Black Cat Bone’ for granted – known it had magical properties, but just accepted it. Congratulations on a great bit of research and for bringing a black cat ‘alive’ for us all.
    ray harris
    http://www.photomuserh.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks for the boost, Ray. It’s good to keep refreshing these musical totems for new ears and eyes looking for the factual inspiration of The Blues.

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  24. Always interesting to read anything about the mythology/legend of the blues. It is such a deep subject. I had never heard this one before. Cool music to go along with the write up too!

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    1. I appreciate your comment. Black Cat Bone is sort of a cultural secret in the same way a “Big Legged Woman” is idolized and memorialized in The Blues:

      http://urbansemiotic.com/2009/11/17/from-big-legged-to-big-butts/

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  25. […] The Plummet Onions Science and music hurtling earthwards at eye-watering velocity « Homeopathy fun Blues and the Black Cat Bone 13 July 2010 A blog called Boles Blues made the front of wordpress.com today. It was covering a topic I – as a true blues fan – have been interested in for some time: the magic of the black cat bone. […]

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  26. I sometimes shared a pint of Guiness with Rory Gallagher on a Sunday night in the Hollywood Arms which is a boozer off the Fulham Road London.We discussed various guitarists.He seemed to like Dylan and I was suprised but agreed that you could play electric using the fingers as opposed to the pick and Dylan uses both.
    Rory had a very powerful sound which cuts through and Eric similarly has a very distinctive sound albeit that it is based on the Old bluesmen.Eric has the extra advantage of being a great songwriter which = more bucks.No other guitarist writes the hits he’s had eg Tears from Heaven etc
    We both agreed that Roy Buchanan although good just didn’t have that raw emotional sound.Just check him out on youtube and like many guitarists has let the processed sound smother the natural electric guitar sound.
    One guy we spent a lot of time talking about was Frank Marino who had a bit of a drug problem but he can play really well.Listen to Mahogany Rush live and the track “Queen Bee”.Boy he can do most licks.
    I write songs so if you get a chance check em out on and leave me some feedback.Thanks
    http://www.myspace.com/alanharryson

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    1. I’m a big Rory Gallagher fan! I really want the Fender tribute remake of his guitar:

      http://www.fender.com/customshop/instruments/search.php?partno=0150080800

      The biggest group to give direct credit to The Blues as the foundation of their success has to be The Beatles. They started as a Blues cover band and evolved their music based on Blues syncopation and harmonies. Listen to their early pre-invasion bar work, and you’ll be stunned by their gritty Bluesy sound.

      The Rolling Stones are also, basically, a Blues band. Keith Richards has made that clear and the influences in his famous riffs are all inspired by the early Blues masters.

      Your music site looks great!

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  27. […] Posted on July 13, 2010 by David W. Boles Yesterday, at 10:00am Eastern my article — American Folklore and The Blues Black Cat Bone — was featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed.  It was a great and grand honor to […]

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  28. Fascinating stuff — which I think is what I like about the blues: you never hit rock bottom (either emotionally or intellectually).

    Who did that awesome picture of Johnson? I’m not familiar.

    Reading this post inspired my morning poem. Doesn’t really do the deep-down-in-your bones freakiness justice, but it was still great fun. http://weekdaypoet.wordpress.com/

    Love all the clips, but especially the one from the John Lee Hooker Band. Really wish my internet was a little faster today so that it didn’t keep stuttering at the best parts!

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    1. Hiya weekdaypoet!

      Love the idea of your blog! You’re right that The Blues is an endless pool of raw emotion and historical disappointments and the songs are keys to firing coping mechanisms. Not sure of the origin of the image. It was in a free repository. Might be from an album cover?

      I read and loved your poetic inspiration. Thanks for the credit! You’re right about that last clip. It smokes! I hope your internet connection gets better. We lost our line last night for about 90 minutes. It’s always harrowing wondering if it will ever come back! SMILE!

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  29. […] Blues Cat Bone” over at the blog Boles Blues. This is likely to make a lot more sense if you read it too. The upshot of it, however, is that the Black Cat Bone, obtained by boiling a black cat until the […]

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  30. I love black cats. Hands off! I hope you aren’t giving people ideas.

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    1. Sometimes you need to make people aware of a condition to prepare them for the unthinkable and the ordinarily unimaginable.

      I’m certain more good folks now know to watch out for — and help protect — black cats than there are new readers who wish to do harm.

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  31. […] despite all this special treatment, I’m feeling super bluesy today – melancholy – which isn’t a comfortable way to feel at all, unless you’re at home […]

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  32. […] Legend of the black cat bone.  […]

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  33. […] of the Blues in Performance Posted on July 17, 2010 by David W. Boles In my article — American Folklore and the Blues Black Cat Bone — we discussed the song “The Birth of the Blues” in the comments stream.  Today, […]

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  34. […] vignette was told in conjunction with the story of bluesman, Robert Johnson, who according to another site, “claims he sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads in exchange for becoming the […]

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  35. […] theory that you can write something fantastic and get featured as our own Boles Blues blog entry, American Folklore and the Blues Black Cat Bone did in July, 2010. It is a feeling that gets just a little deflated when you see organizations with […]

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  36. […] was taking a course that summer about American Folklore and if you’re young and dumb and heliocentric and as prosaic as I was then — trying to […]

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  37. […] is one, magical, song on the album that deserves greater attention:  His amazing rendition of Robert Johnson’s famous song, […]

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  38. […] to our early blog popularity happened on July 11, 2010 when we published the article — “American Folklore and the Blues Black Cat Bone” — and that post was picked up by WordPress.com’s fantastic Freshly Pressed […]

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  39. […] Greplin Effect” is an even more powerful traffic boost than when Boles Blues was featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed: I will now share my quick view stats for […]

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  40. […] work Clapton has done in the Blues — resurrecting Robert Johnson is a prime example — is admirable, and necessary, and we forever owe him for carrying the […]

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  41. ohhhh if i may ask a stupid question,Can magic of the black cat bone expire,If yes how long does does the magic last on a bone.thanks

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  42. It is an ancient story. In my town, Vicenza Italy, the cats were part of a dramatic menu and eaten when noting else was awailable….The recipe was a little different but that’s why the BLUES is still working around here……. yesss !

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  43. […] I wrote my Black Cat Bone article in Boles Blues a year and a half ago, and that article was featured on […]

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  44. […] and documented here for you in Boles Blues.  You’ve traveled with me from the Blues and the Black Cat Bone to Jimmy Bruno Jazz and now into the whole new realm of “Gypsy […]

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  45. […] on how well your blog is doing?  I love the “Freshly Pressed” widget we won for our Black Cat Bone story.  Here’s my previous analysis for that Boles Blues blog […]

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  46. […] continued to earn some cool awards, one of them was our “Freshly Pressed” badge for our American Folklore and the Blues Black Cat Bone article published in the former Boles Blues blog — right here on […]

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  47. […] for a second time — yes, I know some WordPress.com blogs have more — but after our Boles Blues Black Cat Bone article was featured, my new piece on Kaposi’s Sarcoma means so much more because we were able to […]

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  48. […] areas of blog publishing and – as I did in the past with our first Freshly Pressed win for Black Cat Bone – I will share those metrics with you […]

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  49. Great article. I’m a newly-minted blues fan, and I’m learning as I go. Love slide guitar! Like most of the commenters, I had not heard of the Black Cat Bone — great story, great read. I can see I’ll learn a lot here in the Boles neighborhood. Good on ya! Becky

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    1. Thanks for your views on the Black Cat Bone! The Blues are great — but be wary — they’ll lead you right into Jazz! Then you’ll be lost and immersed… never to be seen again! SMILE!

      Yes, we have a ton of articles to read on lots of topics. We used to be 14 separate blogs. Now we are one. The old blog names are the titles of the Categories you see in the sidebar.

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      1. I was wondering about that — the more I read here, the more I saw that it appears to be a collective effort, ongoing from years ago. Wow. Very nice.

        And I love Jazz. Sang in Jazz Choir, grew up on Big Band. I just love music. Music has a million languages but it says the same things.

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        1. Hiya!

          Yes, we are a bit of a collective here — the hive mind at work in the wilds! SMILE!

          It’s great you love Jazz! It’s such a wonderful spirit of humanity!

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  50. […] like a long time, but it certainly doesn’t feel like one.  Winning Freshly Pressed twice is still a great honor that never stops stinging with […]

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  51. […] first win in July 2010 — American Folklore and the Blues Black Cat Bone —  still tingles with the […]

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