Call and Response is one of the most basic musical concepts in popular music. Although the use of call and response is found as far back as the middle ages in antiphonic music, or music with “opposite voices”, the version we tend to refer to started in African work songs and is hallmark to the continuation of early African tradition into modern blues.
As a part of the tradition brought to America from Africa, African American’s in the 17th and 18th century would sing work songs heavily based on a call and response. In the early 19th century, this evolved into rural and urban blues before settling into the wide genre of blues. It is worth noting that many modern types of music, including country-western and hip-hop, have the early blues to thank for this concept.
Typically, in the blues, there are three lines of lyrics per verse. The first two lines are often repeated while the third line will often time resolve the lyric. For example, let’s look at “Cross-Cut Saw” as recorded by Albert King.
I’m a crosscut saw, baby just drag me across your log.
You know I’m a crosscut saw, just drag me across your log.
I’ll cut your wood so easy for you, you can’t help but say, “Hot Dog!”
After each call in this song, it’s typical to hear a response. The call and response would be the lyrics and guitar riff, respectively. It is also worth noting that this lyric and guitar riff isn’t the only call and response you can find. Often times the response can be a lyrics as well. In the case of a guitar duet, both call and response can be a guitar riff.
Probably the most common way to hear the call and response is two measures of lyrics of call followed by two measures of instrumental or full band response. Often times the response can be minimal, perhaps a bump note or a short burst of notes, but it is worth noting that it is a very common concept in the blues and many other types of music.
I bet you can find call and response in some unlikely places.