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Sweet Home Chicago: A Blues Standard

Updated on March 4, 2013

A Twelve-Bar Blues Standard about the Windy City

Like many blues songs, Sweet Home Chicago has shadowy origins based in borrowed riffs and rhythms from older songs. The first recording under that name, however, came from legendary blues-man Robert Johnson and was released in 1937. Most sources suggest that the song was loosely based on Kokomo Blues, about Kokomo, Indiana and Baby Don't You Love Me No More, both songs for which Scrapper Blackwell was known.

Sweet Home Chicago isn't exactly about Chicago, Illinois, as you can see from the lyrics below. It reads as more a tribute to a mythical paradise than an ode to a real city. Here, I've included cover versions of the song from blues and guitar legends from Robert Cray and Eric Clapton to Keb' Mo' and The Blues Brothers. You can learn the lyrics and check the guitar tabs, too. Vote for your favorite performance or let me know if I've missed one of the best.

Try These Fantastic Sweet Home Chicago Covers - Blues and Guitar Greats Perform a Standard

Despite the ambiguous lyrics, Sweet Home Chicago has become an anthem for the city. It has also inspired generations' worth of blues artists and guitar players to make their own mark on the song. Here, I've gathered covers from some of the best-known names in the blues genre. I started, of course, with the original Robert Johnson recording. Sadly, the last recording of Taj Mahal with Bobby McFerrin has terrible sound. It's still a wonderfully different version.

Learn to Sing Sweet Home Chicago

Here Are Robert Johnson's Lyrics

These are the lyrics from the first recording of Sweet Home Chicago, by Robert Johnson. Of course, the lyrics have been altered and reinvented by the hundreds of blues artists who have recorded and performed the song in the seventy years since, but these are a good place to start. If you're wondering, Mr. Johnson pronounced "Iowa" in the last verse "Io-way" so that it rhymed.

Oh, baby don't you want to go

Oh, baby don't you want to go

Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago

(Repeat)

Now, one and one is two, two and two is four

I'm heavy loaded, baby

I'm booked, I gotta go

Cryin' baby, honey, don't you want to go

Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago

Now two and two is four, four and two is six

You gon' keep on monkeyin' 'round here, friend-boy

You gon' get your business all in a trick

I'm cryin' baby, honey, don't you want to go

Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago

Now six and two is eight, eight and two is ten

Friend-boy, she trick you one time

She sure gon' do it again

I'm cryin' hey, hey, baby, don't you want to go

To the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago

I'm goin' to California, from there to Des Moines, Iowa

Somebody will tell me that

You need my help someday

Cryin' hey, hey, baby, don't you want to go

Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago

Eighteen Full Versions of Sweet Home Chicago

For Your Listening Pleasure.

The best way to get a sense of a standard like Sweet Home Chicago is to listen to some of the different cover versions of the song. Here you'll find a dozen and a half different takes to try for yourself, including the Robert Johnson original. Sadly, the original playlist will no longer work here but you can listen to all of the songs at Grooveshark.

My Favorite Version - Everyone Has to Have a Favorite!

The Blues Brothers: Original Soundtrack Recording
The Blues Brothers: Original Soundtrack Recording

This was a very difficult choice, since there are so many amazing and very different versions. As a huge Taj Mahal fan, I was tempted to choose his cover, but I had to go with the one that first introduced me to the song--The Blues Brothers from the fabulous 1980 movie. Any rabid blues fan should be familiar with this movie and enjoy the energy and sheer joy of this performance.

 

President Obama Sings It! - Barack Swings Sweet Home Chicago

A stellar cast of blues greats persuaded American president Barack Obama to sing a few bars of Sweet Home Chicago in February, 2012. Y'know, he's got a pretty decent voice! Buddy Guy, BB King, Susan Tedeschi, Booker T Jones, and the lovely Keb' Mo' were all there (and a lot more, besides). I included the longest clip I could find of the show because it isn't often you get a huge pile of talent like that up on the stage broadcast so everyone can watch.

Which Version Do You Love Best?

Are you a fan of the original Robert Johnson version of Sweet Home Chicago, Taj Mahal's or Keb' Mo's fabulous covers, Eric Clapton's or Buddy Guy's rippin' solos? Vote for the one you like best or pick "Other" and share your favorite in the guest book below.

Whose Chicago Is Sweetest?

See results

It's a Standard, of Course There Are More Videos! - If You Just Can't Get Enough Sweet Home Chicago, Try These, Too!

In case you missed them above, I've included Foghat and Stevie Ray Vaughan in this batch. You'll have to sit (or fast-forward) through two minutes of intro and cheering on the latter, but it's such an iconic version that I couldn't leave it out. I included the Dennis Gruenling version of Sweet Home Chicago and the mistercao cover from Spain do demonstrate that the song isn't solely an American favorite.

The song may not actually be about Chicago, but that hasn't stopped the Chicago Bulls from making their rookies sing a chorus at basketball games. I've added three videos of some of them doing just that.

Sample More Cover Versions - Try and Buy Dozens of Blues and Rock Greats

If you just can't get enough of Sweet Home Chicago, check out some of these amazing (or at least unusual) covers of the song. I was horribly sad not to discover a video or a recording of the version that Muddy Waters recorded with The Rolling Stones to include on this page. Drop me a note if you know where I can find one to add or if I've forgotten your favorite.

Learn to Play Sweet Home Chicago

Play This Blues Standard on Your Guitar

Because of their complexity (and variety), the guitar tabs for the various covers of Sweet Home Chicago are too lengthy to include on this page, but I will share links to several different versions so that you don't have to hunt them down yourself. Once again, if you know of a place to get great guitar tabs for the song, please let me know in the guest book below. Thank you!

Please share your thoughts about the song, the performers, or the blues in general. I'd love to hear about different covers of the standard and the masters and amateurs who have made it one. Have you seen anyone perform Sweet Home Chicago live? If you want to read more about the song (and see this lens featured) head over to Coffee Cup Blues by clicking on my shiny new badge!

What Do You Love about Sweet Home Chicago?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Eric Clapton

      This tablature has been made unavailable in your country at the request

      of the rights owner ????

    • Nightcat profile image

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      You've been blessed, liked, and lensrolled. Yes I love the Blues Brothers version and have it on my lens for them (that's where you are lensrolled). But the song is pure Scrapper Blackwell. Nothing at all wrong with that, I love seeing such an old song live through the decades.

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 5 years ago

      the blues brothers version of this is a great cover.

    • profile image

      thehumanproject 5 years ago

      nice....like the buddy guy one

    • Dragon 40 profile image

      Ken McVay 5 years ago from Nanaimo, British Columbia

      Three cheers for Buddy Guy and the Chicago Blues!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Love the Blues ;) Nice lense

      Like the Blues so much been changing the band over to Blues every show, Blues and Swamp Pop http://www.squidoo.com/the-swamp-music-players

    • profile image

      troyreed23 6 years ago

      Great lens I love chicago and the blues.

    • TriviaChamp profile image

      TriviaChamp 6 years ago

      Awesome lens! Blessed.

    • lefty78 profile image

      lefty78 6 years ago

      Great lens on a great song!!

    • GetFactsnotHype profile image

      GetFactsnotHype 6 years ago

      The pictures on this page are great, particularly in reference to the guitars. Yes Robert Johnson is one of the grandfathers of blues music - no doubt, and Clapton has praised him. I recently published a blues lens called blues-music-and-musicians and have this lens of yours on my featured lenses section - right hand column.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I'm enjoying Sweet Home Chicago music video very much, will have finish listening to this.

      BTW, a headup in Eighteen Full Versions of Sweet Home Chicago, the Clearspring module isn't working.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great Lens! Thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Strange that the lyrics do not connect to Chicago, but I think the melodies and the need for these lyrics might be the intention of creating it in such way. Haven't heard the song till today.

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 6 years ago

      Thank you for this Lens on Sweet Home Chicago

    • profile image

      yourgoldenfuture 6 years ago

      I love your lenses... a longterm-blues-addict greets you from germany

    • GreenTeaTime profile image

      GreenTeaTime 6 years ago

      I don't know lots of things about this kind of music but I like it a lot! Thank's for the information!

    • Demaw profile image

      Demaw 6 years ago

      I like many of the versions from traditional to contemporary. Like you said the lyrics are ambiguous. it seems he is going to Chicago by way of California then Iowa. It's never said where he is originally. Many of the blues songs have coded meanings. Some of the meanings were slang of the time that either changed or the meanings lost.

    • mom-247 profile image

      mom-247 6 years ago

      So many different versions! I am afraid to admit that I had only heard one before reading this!

    • lmmclain profile image

      lmmclain 6 years ago

      very informative lens! Really enjoyed it.

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 6 years ago from London

      Strange how life is...Have always loved the Blues Brothers version, and a couple of weeks ago a friend showed me the Robert Johnson youtube vid. Now i've just found this lens, and can hear even more versions. Thanks for a happy, happy lens.

    • ZablonMukuba profile image

      ZablonMukuba 6 years ago

      this music will last forever

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      Love the way you set up this lens.

      My favorite version is from the Blues Brothers.

      Poutine

    • profile image

      boutiqueshops 7 years ago

      Wow! so very cool! awesome!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 7 years ago from USA

      Nice work!!!!

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 7 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      One of the great classics.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      Another classic song - a great one for a guitar player. There are so many great versions, it's hard to pick a favorite. I do like Stevie Ray Vaughan's, especially since it was his last performance.