Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

What you have here is an old guy. In education for 30 years, started teaching elementary, ended as library and media director of community college. I've enjoyed mountain climbing, sports car rallying, was pipe major of a bagpipe band, played guitar and sang during the folk revival, walking and hiking later in life. Now fairly sedentary. Enjoy reading, esp. mysteries and fantasy, but my reading is pretty eclectic. Enjoy movies, giving Netflix a workout.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I've just finished reading

I've just finished reading a fascinating book on the blues. It's entitled Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald (Amistad, 2004). Robert John was a blues player in the mid-30s and is often said to have invented the blues. He is said to have sold his soul to the devil to learn to play the guitar. Wald says not so, in both cases. There were several other players who moved up the Mississippi, landing in Chicago and playing music. He claims that these musicians played all kinds of music but when record companies came to record them, they categorized them for marketing purposes. (Still goes on today, doesn't it? Same with genre books. My friend, Keith Roberts, was told by Mrs. Gollancz of Gollancz Books in England, that Keith Roberts did not write mysteries and that he should stick to science fiction.) The category when Johnson did record was "Race Records." So although he played other kinds of pop music, it was only blues that he recorded. And not much, at that. Forty-one cuts altogether. He recorded three days at the end of November, 1936, sandwiched in between hillbilly bands, Mexican bands, and the likes of the Light Crust Doughboys, Blue Ridge Playboys, John Boyd and His Southerners and others. He did two takes on many of his short blues songs. He recorded in June 1937 under much the same circumstances. Those recordings seem tinny by today's recording standards. Still Johnson's guitar playing and his voice come through quite clearly. He never got to record any more because he was poisoned in 1938. Some say it was because he was messing with someone's woman. The CD set on two disks is the complete recordings.

I've been listening to several cuts each night with earphones. It made the book more enjoyable as I read about Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Willie Dixon and Josh White, contemporaries of Robert Johnson and often more popular and better known. And I did get to attend a concert by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, who were just a little later. Blues has come a long ways since then. It got electrified and developed different styles, Chicago style, Piedmont style, west coast style. But there will always be a delta style, where it all began.


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