Required Reading: The Land Where The Blues Began - By Alan Lomax FORUM: Archive - Beginning April 17, 2003: Required Reading: The Land Where The Blues Began - By Alan Lomax
Top of pageBottom of page   By Isaiah ( on Friday, February 07, 2003 - 01:24 pm:

For a forum such as this, this biblical text of Blues History is required reading... Rhythm and Blues is but a baby of The Blues, as are MOST other popular American musics... Since 2003 has been declared The Year of The Blues, this would be another great REASON to become further aquainted with this music that has captivated the world...

Peace an Blessings!


Top of pageBottom of page   By Ed Wolfrum ( on Friday, February 07, 2003 - 02:43 pm:

Isaiah, please post the ISBN number so we can chase it down.



Top of pageBottom of page   By Livonia Ken ( on Friday, February 07, 2003 - 03:00 pm:

I'm not Isaiah, but...

ISBN 1565847393
Publisher "New Press"

It was first published about ten years ago. The most recent paperback edition comes packaged with a companion CD of classic blues tracks from Rounder Records.


Top of pageBottom of page   By Livonia Ken ( on Friday, February 07, 2003 - 03:39 pm:

Re-reading my post, it may be a bit misleading. I believe the included CD is a four track sampler from a 28-track companion CD of the same name.


Top of pageBottom of page   By Jim G ( on Friday, February 07, 2003 - 06:05 pm:

Who declared 2003 the year of the blues?
I'd also add "Blues People" by Leroi Jones to the list (if we're starting one).

Top of pageBottom of page   By Sue ( on Friday, February 07, 2003 - 07:42 pm:

Jim G,
Congress did, I believe ... and Ken Burns has his "Blues" documentary coming out ...

Top of pageBottom of page   By douglasm ( on Friday, February 07, 2003 - 09:13 pm:

This begs a question my wife and I were discussing earlier today.
.....What accounts for the popularity of the blues today, especially among white audiences. I live in a VERY conservative white bread area, but when we had the radio station, of the dozen or so acts we brought through town, the biggest draws BY FAR were blues oriented. There are 3 (soon to be 4) fairly hefty blues festivals in central Washington, about as far removed from Detroit or Chicago as you can get, and blues bands around here abound. This has occured only over the past 10 or 15 years, way past the blues revival of the late '60's. Anyone got any ideas?

Top of pageBottom of page   By Lynn Bruce ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 08:56 am:

Douglasm:This is going on all over America.Blues bands are everywhere. Blues festivals are just about in every big town.

My slant on this is--- it's one of the best ways to get back to playing the easier to understand music.The blues you hear now is very simular to the early ROCK AND ROLL that was played in the 60s.People can boogie to it,tap thier feet,and sing along to it.

A lot of musicians got on the band wagon about more is better. Bigger amps, Monster,but with blues you can get back to the basics and still kick-ass.
Of course I'm simplifying this,but most people seem to like to hear the blues,watch a crowd when a blues band does an uptempo song,theres a lot of foot tapping,smiles,and people that don't normally dance up there dancing.


Top of pageBottom of page   By Sue ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 11:16 am:

Very interesting question, guys ...

Top of pageBottom of page   By douglasm ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 11:52 am:

...brings up a second question. With the proliferation of "white" blues bands, are we going to suffer from the Michael Bolton syndrome...that is, the "corruption" of the blues sound and tradition, or will the Hall and Oates effect take place, where a resurgance of interest in the "original" is generated?
Or has "the blues" as an idium just evolved--a la Robert Cray?
I guess what I'm saying, is that when I listen to old Buterfield-Siegel Schwall-Bloomfield records, I get a feeling I don't get out of the current crop of "blues" bands.
Or am I just getting old?

Top of pageBottom of page   By LTLFTC ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 12:42 pm:

I agree with Lynn's assessment of 'getting back to basics' as a big part of blues' popularity.
I also agree with Douglas about the current crop paling (hehheh) in comparison to Butterfield etc with the exception of Robert Cray or some of the Malaco artists who have put blues elements into more pop/soul structures.
I'd imagine the popularity of blues has led to the proliferation of mediocre blues bands - every town has a bunch of them. It's disorienting to walk into a bar and see the local orthodontist (or whatever) fronting a "blues" band , singing about 'gwine to Missippi - gwina see Liza" etc. It just doesn't feel.. quite... right , somehow


Top of pageBottom of page   By isaiah ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 01:07 pm:

Well,Douglas, I can't speak for the Blues popularity among Whites, as I am not White... But I can say with a great deal of certainty, that among Black folk, the Blues lost its currency the moment millions of us (that includes my own mother and father) moved north and northeast, and left the places that caused those blues far behind(smile!)... Securing decent-paying employment, and not having to deal with those stultifying Jim Crow Laws, lynching, and death, gave a whole lot of people a new sense of optimism, and a strong desire to leave the past in the past... In essence, when you've LIVED the Blues it aint no novel idea - get my meaning..? I think it is important for folks to read the book(if you've not read it already)for a more in-depth understanding of how that terrible atmosphere was a principal contribution to the evolution of the Blues...

Peace and Blessings, Douglas!

Top of pageBottom of page   By douglasm ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 01:40 pm:

.....this creates an interesting definition problem similar to the Motown/Memphis arguement, er, discussion a while back. "The Blues" that are replicated by the bands I was talking about were more of an "urban blues", possibly a pre-curser of soul, as opposed to the more acoustic "southern blues", the Robert Johnson type, which has, with some exception, pretty much died out.
I realise and understand the underpinings of the genre, my question is now that the blues have been adopted (co-oped) by people with no understanding of the genre, will the form suffer?

Top of pageBottom of page   By Lynn Bruce ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 02:05 pm:

If life experience were the key to singing the blues then the Native Americans,Jewish people from the con.camps,boat people from Vietnam,and just about anyone in prison would be just kickin em out.
I think some people have it and some don't.

African-Americans started the blues,but kind of dropped the ball as Isaiah says, when they started moving north and started thinking of it as low class.They did start the sound that we know today though--Muddy,B.B.,Elmore James,ect.

I think the church had a lot to due with the blues being out of favor in the black community(According to what I've heard)"YES SIR,YOUR GOING TO BURN IN HELL LISTENING TO THAT DEVILS MUSIC"

The British bands started the blues revival, with the young American fans picking up on the bands blues tunes and then searching out the original American artists(that usually were working a day job to pay the bills).

When I worked with Mr. Bo and the Blues Boys, we had Chicago Pete playing bass. He was working in a cleaners as a clothes presser during the day!! He then went on to be a name blues artist,but it wouldn't have happened if the British wouldn't have come over here and reminded us of our roots.

I don't like putting things in racial catagories BUT lets face it black singers CAN sing the blues better(usually)Better genes? I don't know ask God.

I do know one thing, the best compliment you can give a white blues singer is to say he doesn't sound white.

I'll go back to my first staement--SOME PEOPLE GOT IT AND SOME DON'T!!!
What do you think!!!

Top of pageBottom of page   By john dixon ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 03:13 pm:

Coincidentally, the Charleston, SC "Lowcountry Blues Bash" just kicked off here last night and I agree with Lynn that, with the blues, you can pair things back to an austere minimum and still kick some ass, make disparate walks of people tap their feet and maybe even dance together. When played well or properly sloppy the blues will put a smile on everyone's face.
That said, I would rather hear a raggedy, bordering on shambles blues band than an adequate, complacent one. At least with the former there's some sort of an edge, some danger of completely falling into disarray. Too much polish is anathema to the true spirit of the Blues. Your average blues band, you know, called the The fill-in-the-blank Blues Band, has this irritating competancy that is just too boring for me. But man I love the old stuff: Sonny Boy, John Lee, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, and others. Now that John Lee's gone, R.L. Burnside is the last truly great one alive IMHO.
The Year Of The Blues is basically a marketing ploy to tie in with this multi-part documentary from Martin Scorcese. Like Spielberg's "Band Of Brothers", Scorcese I think does one episode and doles out the rest to other directors, each assigned with conveying a certain era or chapter in the history of the Blues. I am extremely excited at the prospect of seeing some rare(defined as not having been previously see by me!)archival footage and having the story told in loving detail.

Top of pageBottom of page   By SisDetroit ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 03:27 pm:

The church came north with the blacks. The church is within the heart. As I was coming up in Detroit, the blues was all around. In the streets, the home, and the church. The only thing that wasn't in the church was the rhythm section. The drums, piano, organ, tambourine was in the small churches. As you can hear the blues when the deacon would moan out "I love the Lord, he heard my cry." The church would follow and repeat what the deacon started, sounding just like Muddy Waters. :o) The large churches only had the organ, sounding like funeral music, singing from hymn books.

Ray Charles "I Got a Woman Way over Town that's good to me" was taken from a gospel "There's a Man taking name." (I really can't remember that song that well.) Bristol Briant played the blues on the radio in the 50's. Martha Jean played the blues all through the 60's, as she talked about the blue collar workers.

(I love the blues just as I love black and white still pictures, and black and white old film.)

Top of pageBottom of page   By Bob Olhsson ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 04:11 pm:

I think the marketing of blues is pretty much parallel to the marketing of "folk" music. It's sold as a fantasy about the "old days" for intellectuals, music to play as a statement about how "hip" they are. The folk revival by New York left-wing intellectuals in the late '40s included a blues revival.

This is not to say there aren't wonderful artists in the genre including many who I personally love and have worked with. It's just that the "authenticity" business is laced with lots of good ol' New York music biz hype when you look behind the curtain. The same is true of "folk" and "country" music.

When you've got people like Louis Armstrong and Chick Webb completely altering the course of the world's musical history, nostalgic "hipness" is kind of an odd thing for people to be embracing.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Bob Olhsson ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 04:16 pm:

And Sis Detroit, you are absolutely right. The authentic blues IS in the church.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Lynn Bruce ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 04:17 pm:

Sis, thats what I loved about Detroit radio,you could always hear the blues on WJLB or WCHB. Your right about the blues being all around (in Detroit anyway"). Blues was at the time like what we used to call "hillbilly music",you wouldn't hear it except on certain stations.It seemed to me to start getting more play about the time we started saying "country music instead of hillbilly"somewhere in the early 70,s

The reason I used to listen to the sunday morning gosple programs on the radio wasn't to get closer to God, it was to hear the great singing.LOL Just change the words and you've got some really good blues.
Hope your well,Lynn

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ritchie ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 04:20 pm:

Why is Blues popular among whites? It's simple emotion that everyone can relate to, regardless of skin colour.

"My woman left me and I'm feeling low"

I can relate to that.

Top of pageBottom of page   By SisDetroit ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 04:25 pm:

Do you remember "Paul's Cut Rate" every sunday morning? Now there was a "white" guy who truly loved black gospel music. :o)

Top of pageBottom of page   By Sue ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 06:57 pm:

Were those the commercials where Paul would talk to Martha Jean?

Top of pageBottom of page   By SisDetroit ( on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 07:28 pm:

Yes they were Sue. Mr. Paul, and his son, knew all of the gospel songs and singers. He would even put in his request for certain songs. I wish I could get my hands on his record collection, and his photo collection.

Both Bristol Bryant and Martha Jean, not only played blues during the week, both of them played gospel on Sundays.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Jim G ( on Sunday, February 09, 2003 - 12:07 am:

Douglas et al,
Some really good points in your posts.
The blues revival of the early 60s (really a roots music revival) brought attention to many blues pioneers. It continued after the pioneers began to die off, and continues to this day. Why?
Willie Dixon, a wise man, said "The blues is the facts of everyday life." The pioneer blues guys were/are Griots, holy people, and their message reverberates across generations. The twelve bar blues is the African American contribution to music, and it informs American culture from stem to stern.
The blues is still here because the common conditions of life, daily drag and cosmic woe, are still here. There is so much hope in the blues. And the blues makes you feel good too!

The British groups gave me entry into blues, sparked my interest in Dixon, Waters etc. And even if China, or Russia or many other countries don't have 'blues' per se, they have music through which their deepest feelings are expressed.

Top of pageBottom of page   By SteveS ( on Sunday, February 09, 2003 - 12:47 am:


I used to live for the Sunday morning show with Mr. Paul, or occasionally Mr. Paul Jr. I really didn't get the impression he loved the music all that much, but you're right, he played great stuff when he wasn't hawking his herbal remedies.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Gary Rosen ( on Sunday, February 09, 2003 - 02:36 am:

I've been playing in blues bands for 25 years, and I've seen the whole range. While the music obviously has its roots in African-American culture, there are good white blues players, and even some bad black ones! Someone asked if the blues were getting "corrupted". Well, there's no way a modern suburban white guy is going to sound like Lightnin' Hopkins or Muddy Waters. But he can sound like himself. If he can get that across to other people with a little feeling and sincerity, that's good enough.

Lynn, about your "best compliment" - one of my favorite compliments came when I was talking to a black woman between sets, she said "You're a good bass player, you don't sound like most white guys."

Top of pageBottom of page   By Lynn Bruce ( on Sunday, February 09, 2003 - 08:32 am:

Gary---SEE!!! and a great compliment it was!!

Even though it's like saying "you don't sweat much for a fat girl"

Another reason why blues was frowned upon in the "hip" black&white groups--- In the 50,s and 60,s you had to dig jazz if you wanted to impress everyone on how "hip"you were.Blues was all around,but it wasn't hip to like it as much as jazz.
Your coolness went up accordingly by how much you knew about"who did what on what jazz tune.


Top of pageBottom of page   By Jim G ( on Sunday, February 09, 2003 - 09:36 am:

There's truth in what you say about jazz/hipness.
Beans Bowles, for example, viewed John Lee Hooker with some bemusement. Beans had formal training, and couldn't quite understand the Hook's popularity, saying he strummed and squawked, couldn't repeat the same musical number, and only knew two or three chords.
But T Bone Walker, a more 'sophisticated' & jazz-oriented player, won Beans' praise.
To Beans and his colleagues, knowledge of music was was really important.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Keith Herschell - London ( on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 12:15 pm:

In reply to Douglas, re the current White bands slant on the blues. He wonders whether the music would get corrupted. Wasn�t it ever thus? Going back to the sixties, I was very young when the Rolling Stones first came to prominence, and I listened to their first 2 albums, made up almost entirely of covers, without the benefit of knowing the originals. When I got into the blues and Gospel, primarily because as a soul fan I wanted to explore the roots, I listened again to the Stones as well as Cream, John Mayall etc, and I could never accept it as anything but ersatz. I believe Mick Jaggers attempt at sounding authentic (black ?) is a complete joke. At best they made good Rock music (if that is your bag). Creams version of �Crossroads� is listenable, as a good slant at being creative, as opposed to copying. I loathe those white artists who are convinced that screaming makes them authentic (Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin). I once read with amazement that Rod Stewarts idol was Sam Cooke, and that he (Stewart) modelled himself on him. If Rod Stewart stood on the Eiffel Tower, he still wouldn't be high enough to lick Sam Cookes boots.

In the UK most white blues bands started out by playing in pubs, clubs and bars, because people couldn�t see the genuine article, which is understandable. But then why would someone go and buy their records, which are third rate covers when you could have the genuine article?

As an amusing aside, when the Stones did their first US tour, they bought a load of current R&B singles, and learnt the ones they liked just by listening to them. One of them was the Valentinos superb �It�s all over now�. They didn�t understand the expression �Got my nose wide open� and thought they had misheard it, so they sang �Got my eyes wide open�.

With regard to the current crop of Black blues / R&B performers, I think the way Robert Cray is evolving the Blues is the way forward. I love the way he records original songs, but in a traditional manner. Listen to �She�s gone� or �I�ve slipped her mind�. I also like Joe Louis Walker, who does similar things.

Interestingly two of my favourite blues recordings are by people you don�t normally associate with the genre. Chuck Berry�s version of Big Maceos �Worried Life blues� and Little Richards version of Jimmy Reeds �Baby what you want me to do� are both wonderful.

Top of pageBottom of page   By douglasm ( on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 01:07 pm:

....I agree with you, but I see a difference between now and the blues revival of the '60's. When the Stones or Clapton or The Yardbirds played "blues based" rock, they were relying on their knowledge of the genre, apparently taken from original source material. I get the impression listing to some current "blues" bands that they're using The Blues Brothers as their role model, thus creating a third or fourth generation copy that people accept as an original.
By the way, I agree with you on Robert Cray. A very very good performer who puts on an excellent show.

Top of pageBottom of page   By mc5rules ( on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 01:19 pm:

Bringing the topic back around to the original thread...Something about Lomax has always bugged me. I think a column Dave Marsh wrote after he died summed it up for me. He wrote: "Sometime soon, we need to figure out why it is that, when it comes to cultures like those of Mississippi black people, we celebrate the milkman more than the milk."

I will admit that I learned a ton from the recordings he compiled and the research he did. But there's plenty of evidence (some of which Marsh discusses in the column) that Lomax was a self-important cultural pirate. Or, as a blues observer quoted in the column said: "Don't get too caught up in grieving for Alan Lomax. For every fine musical contribution that he made, there was an evil venal manipulation of copyright, publishing and ownership of the collected material."

You can read the whole column here:

Top of pageBottom of page   By douglasm ( on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 01:33 pm:

Thank you mc5 for getting me out of the morass I put myself into.

Marsh makes a very good point but, was there anyone else out there at the time collecting this material? Nowadays we have SIG's for everything from A to Z, but back in the '30's and '40's was there anyone else wandering around with a wire recorder and staff paper?

Top of pageBottom of page   By mc5rules ( on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 02:13 pm:

Well, without plagerizing his whole column, Marsh mentions a black academic from Fisk who turned Lomax on to much of that stuff (and who may have been plagarized by Lomax).

It's interesting, anyway...

Top of pageBottom of page   By Jim G ( on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 03:04 pm:

Let's not forget that W.C. Handy was considered by some to have 'borrowed' some of his material, e.g., Memphis Blues, from local sources.
Handy was, by his own admission, a kind of traveling folklorist who had the prescience to ask questions and notate songs.
Lomax could well have stolen material. His insistence on having his name on "Goodnight Irene" isn't unusual; many 'name' bandleaders during that time added their name to a sideman's composition. Lomax probably felt that he was entitled to something for facilitating the song's broader popularity.
But was his motivation in preserving and documenting this music really greed? Seems like there were more lucrative fields...

I'm not justifying Lomax, just trying to put his actions into context.

Top of pageBottom of page   By bill ( on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 06:45 pm:

Yes, Robert Cray is the way forward for the blues in terms of international recognition. He is a very talented guy.

But the blues, on a local basis, is alive and well here on the South Coast of England. OK, it's small venues but the enthusiasm is there and it's fun.

I've never bothered to figure out why the blues appeals to people, but it does, and to people from 16 to 76.

Sorry, not exactly Detroit, I know, but JLH was based in the Motor City, after all.



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