Friday, October 14, 2011

Some Recommended Reading

I have fallen behind in recent years with my blues-related reading.  There were so many great books that came out at the same time that I couldn't decide which ones to read, so I ended up not reading any of them.  I still have lots of catching up to do.  I would love to read the Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter bios that came out a few years ago, but I just haven't gotten to them yet.  However, I was lucky enough to not only get an Amazon Gift Card for my birthday, but I also won another gift card at work, so now I could solve my problem and catch up on my reading.

Only problem was that once I started looking, the same thing happened again.....where to start, where to stop, what to do.  There were too many choices, too many decisions.  I would put books in my shopping cart, then take them out, then put CDs in the cart, then take them out (yeah, yeah, I know NONE of you ever do this).  Finally, after a month or so, I finally settled on a couple of blues-related books and neither one of them were the two bios I mentioned above (yes, I'm's obvious).  I don't think I could have made any better choices though.  See what you think.

Texas Blues:  The Rise of a Contemporary Sound - by Alan Govenar:  This weighty tome clocks in at 600 pages and is pretty least as much as one of these books can be.  Back in the late 80's, Govenar published a book called Meeting the Blues, which was a collection of interviews and short articles with and about various Texas blues musicians, going back to the early 30's up to the present time (then, the mid 80's).  The earlier book covered a lot of the same musicians that are present in Texas Blues.  In fact, some of the interviews from the earlier book are also present in the newer edition, but Govenar has greatly expanded his scope, including musicians from all over the Lone Star State. 

There are sections devoted to the Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange, and Austin scenes, along with other areas, and also sections about Zydeco, the Texas guitarists who electrified blues guitar (Eddie Durham, Charlie Christian, and T-Bone Walker) and those who migrated to California (Walker, Lowell Fulson, Pee Wee Crayton), and the many Texas sax players (Henry Hayes, Henry "Buster" Smith, Grady Gaines, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson).  It's loaded with interviews and stories about all the familiar faces of Texas blues, such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Freddie King, Johnny Winter, Delbert McClinton, Johnnie Taylor, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and many less familiar faces, such as Zuzu Bollin, Texas Johnny Brown, Big Walter Price, Robert Ealey, Summer Bruton, Alex Moore, Tutu Jones, and many others. 

There are also some great, seldom-seen photos of many of these artists, mostly taken by Govenar over the past forty years, and a great bibliography section that will help you to be able to read or hear more from these artists if you're so inclined.  Texas Blues was a great find and will open your eyes to the amazing diversity of the Lone Star State's blues scene.

Dr. Bill Ferris was one of the first blues scholars that I was familiar with.  In the late 80's, Dr. Ferris hosted the Highway 61 radio program on Mississippi Public Radio on Saturday nights from ten until midnight.  At the time, it was the only blues I could find on the radio where I lived, since this was all long before the days of 24-7 satelite radio.  Dr. Ferris not only played the blues, he talked about them, too, so I was able to learn a lot about these new artists I was hearing.  It was almost like a two-hour seminar every weekend, and I rarely missed a weekend. 

Years ago, Dr. Ferris authored Blues from the Delta, a book which pretty much served a lot of blues fans as a textbook for Mississippi Delta Blues, and should be a permanent part of any Delta Blues fans' bookshelf.  However, he has topped himself with his latest work, Give My Poor Heart Ease:  Voices of the Mississippi Delta Blues.

This new book features several interviews with Mississippi artists describing in their own words their lives, their music and it's origins, and their culture.  This is the blues from it's very source, as pure as it gets, from people like Otha Turner, Scott Dunbar, Lee Kizart, Son Thomas, Rev. Isaac Thomas, and B. B. King.  Ferris also describes typical church services and house parties.  The stories in the artists' own words are simply incredible and bring the blues to life.  There's also an exhaustive bibliography that lists essential books, articles, CDs, DVDs, and websites.

As if the book wasn't enough of a treasure, Ferris also includes a CD of interviews and recordings (including songs by Dunbar, Kizart, Turner, and Son Thomas, and a DVD of his movies, which feature Thomas, King, and even a group of prisoners from the prison at Parchman.  Folks, there aren't a lot of books on the blues that you really, absolutely, positively must have, but this is one of question.  It's a book you'll be going back and revisiting for years to come. 

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