Reviews by Willard Manus
University of Michigan Press and University of Minnesota Press for helping
to keep the blues flame burning. With the publication of, respectively,
BLUES, HOW DO YOU DO? and EARLY BLUES, blues fans will be able to deepen
their understanding of the music they loveand perhaps even come
to enjoy it a little more.
BLUES, HOW DO YOU DO? by Christian OConnell is subtitled
Paul Oliver and the Transatlantic Story of the Blues. Oliver
has written, over a period of sixty years, some of the most important
books on the blues, beginning in 1960 with Blues Fell This Morning.
Many consider the British-born Oliveran architectural academic by
tradeto be the father of blues scholarship.
OConnell, who is a British academic himselfhe lectures on
American history at the University of Gloucestershiredescribes Olivers
first encounter with African-American music in the summer of 1942 when
he was working at a Suffolk harvest camp and met a bunch of black GIs.
The encounter with the troops sparked an interest in record collecting
that would provide the backbone to a prolific career as a blues scholar
In the following
years Oliver set up a blues and jazz society, began writing for such publications
as Jazz Journal and Jazz Monthly. He also visited
the USAs blues hotbeds, put together blues exhibitions, and promoted
the appreciation of the blues as a distinctive music in its own right.
Oliver, who also designed albums and posters, eventually wrote ten books
on the blues, many of which contained his interviews with such stalwarts
as Brother John Sellars, Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Rushing, Brownie McGhee
and Sonny Terry.
OConnell has many critical things to say about Oliver. The
British author clearly evidences a fascination for working-class black
culture, particularly in the fifties, when his descriptions of black life
and of blues singers take on shades of romanticism, exoticism, and, at
times, remnants of primitivism or 1920's negrophilia,
he writes. A large part of his book deals with these charges, which are
discussed in a densely written, abstruse way that will be fully understood
perhaps only by other academics. That said, OConnell still tips
his hat to Paul Oliver, insisting that his work remains among the
most important and influential in his field. (press.umich.edu)
EARLY BLUES: THE FIRST STARS OF BLUES GUITAR by Jas Obrecht, former
editor of Guitar Player Magazine, is a lot easier and more
enjoyable to read, consisting as it does of nine biographical sketches
of such pioneer bluesmen as Sylvester Weaver, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tampa
Red and Lonnie Johnson. Affectionately written, handsomely illustrated,
these sketches bring to life the most prominent singer-guitarists
who made influential and enduring recordings during the Roaring Twenties.
Obrechts research is equally impressive. He has dug deep into record
company archives, newspaper and magazine files, personal recollections
and scholarly findings in the writing of EARLY BLUES. He has also listened
to the 78 rpm records made by his subjects, described their musical techniques,
quoted from some of the earthy songs they sang, such as Roaming
Rambler Blues by Lonnie Johnson:
I got a gal in Texas, I got gals in Tennessee,
Ive got gals in Texas, Ive got gals in Tennessee,
Theres a hundred doors fastened, waiting for this