Sunday, June 27, 2010

Booking The Blues--Part One

Since I've been busy practicing my novelist skills by stabbing words onto my second manuscript (or w.i.p.--work in progress being the term writer types use), and since I'm still busy looking for someone to look at my first attempt, I thought that I'd share some of what sits and cries the blues on my book shelves. So, for anyone looking to add to their blues music knowledge bank, these are loaded with the good stuff. Sorry for Amazon's "look inside clicker", because you can't look inside here, but I needed book cover photos to jazz this up a bit--so there.

Might as well get both Muddy Waters/The Mojo Man by Sandra B. Tooze and Can't Be Satisfied/The Life and Times of Muddy Waters by Robert Gordon. I did and I'd be hard pressed to recommend one over the other. Can't go wrong with a well written biography of THE greatest bluesman who ever walked the planet and both of these are well written.

Same for Moanin' At Midnight/The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf by Jemes Segrest and Mark Hoffman about THE greatest bluesman who ever walked planet earth. Yeah, yeah, it depends on whether I'm listening to Smokestack Lightin' or Standing Around Cryin' as to which way I'm leaning.

When Blues With A Feeling/The Little Walter Story by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, and Ward Gaines hit the shelves, all I could think was--It's about damned time! someone wrote about THE greatest blues harp player who ever walked planet earth.

I'll stop there as far as my top blues bios, because I think to know the blues that one has to know Chicago blues and those four books do it for me.

Deep Blues/A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta by Robert Palmer defines just what difference there is between the music that pulled itself from the delta to Chicago and all the others flavors. Boils down to this: Muddy Waters played 'deep blues'--B.B. King doesn't and admits it in this book. Charlie Patton did--Mississippi John Hurt didn't. Bukka White did--Josh White didn't. Good read, good analysis.

Chicago Blues/The City and the Music by Mike Rowe traces the evolution and the migration of the music from the plantations to the city. This English fellow writes a valuable history of the growth of the blues once it hit Chicago and the men who made it vital, including the rise of Chess Records and the grooming of their stable of stars.

Urban Blues by Charles Keil is a good companion piece to Rowe's book and has been around a lot longer, but holds up well. When B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Freddie King, Otis Rush, and others began to catch on with the hippies of the late '60s and '70s, Keil provided them with a road map to these stars with this book and explained just why this music had significance to the American music scene.

Chasin' That Devil Music/Searching For The Blues by Gayle Dean Wardlow basically follows the trails and tribulations of blueshound, or bluesfinder, Wardlow's life ambition to track down the life stories and recordings of Mississippi Delta blues guys, great and small. I enjoyed reading his tales about knocking on doors looking for 78 rpm records throughout he rural delta area in chapters with titles such as, Tips, Leads, and Documents. Many of the chapters reflect reprints from articles that he published as far back as the '60s, while some of them based on new unpublished findings that he adds to the mix of mud from the delta. Now I doubt seriously that being born in Freer, Texas had anything to do to prompt him on this journey. Ever been to Freer? The first thing you'll notice when you do is a giant rattlesnake statue. No, he was living in Mississippi when some of those yankees from NEW YORK CITY came calling for his help in tracking down the elusive bluesmen in 1962. He never stopped looking. A nice bonus is the CD that he throws into the back of the book with recordings from his own collection by the likes of Charlie Patton, Willie Brown, Garfield Akers, Joe Callicott, Ismon Bracey, Son House, and others. He includes five oral interviews from his research on the disc also. Great book from someone who walked the walk.

Escaping The Delta/Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald takes off from some of the same sources that people like Wardlow uncovered and provides him with a thesis that deconstructs the Robert Johnson mystique and puts it in perspective. Even though, this is not a biography of Robert Johnson, Wald gives the reader a good foundation of what the bluesman's place in the history of the music was all about. He acknowledges the debt owed to all those "blues finders" who came before him as he compares what the music meant in its day, how it moved across cultural boundaries, and what it means today.

Every self-respecting harmonica players has to have a copy of Kim Fields' Harmonica, Harps, and Heavy Breathers. Great book for those that love the instrument or blues fans in general. It is chock full of informative bios of every harp player known to man, from Jaybird Coleman to Kim Wilson and all in between. Fields recounts the history of the harmonica from Mathias Hohner's first efforts in the 1800s and he breaks the practitioners down into the musical genre in which they huffed 'n puffed. Indispensable.

I've covered books such as, Alan Grovenar's Texas Blues and Down In Houston by Rogers Woods in previous posts and in more detail, so I won't repeat myself here. I've got a few others on the shelf that I'll visit back here soon. 'Til I do, 'Nuff for now.

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