John_cowley-recorded_blues_span3
October 1997

Edited by John Cowley and Paul Oliver
The New Blackwell Guide to Recorded Blues

This massively researched tome benefits from such scholars as Britain’s Paul Oliver and Mike Rowe and Statesiders like Paul Garon, Dick Shurman and John Broven, who recommend 140 “essential” CDs (with erudite appreciations) and a basic library of 560 recordings which, after artist and title listings, feature a brief summary. In Chapter One the editors examine blues’ “precursors and parallel traditions,” (e.g., Trinidad carnival music, Negro vocal groups ca. 1893-1922, ragtime piano roll classics). While some selections look mighty interesting, I doubt if many will want to cough up $17 for The Music of Madagascar on Yazoo, for example. The same could be said of many of their 40 choices in “Southern Crossovers” which mixes hillbilly, bluegrass and Western swing with various Sun Record sessions—including Elvis’.

On a brighter note, “Post-War Chicago and the North” finds Garon digging into the kind of blues that made Chicago and Detroit famous on labels like Vee Jay, Chess, Delmark and Vanguard. “Down-Home Post-War Blues” covers some of the same artists (i.e., John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf) but at a different time in their careers. Rowe examines the between-wars piano blues and boogie woogie scene, concentrating on Big Maceo, Yancey and Sykes (among others), as well as such post-war pianists as Champion Jack Dupree and Otis Spann. Many of these CDs are on the Austrian Blues Documents and Document labels with their single artist series of complete recorded works in chronological order especially prominent.

Post-war Texas and West Coast blues share a chapter as do New Orleans, Louisiana and zydeco. In “Modern Trends,” after sizing up B.B. and Albert King, Little Milton and Bobby Blue Bland, the authors veer into “soul blues” (Ted Taylor, O.V. Wright, Z.Z. Hill) and run aground on the reefs of funk, disco and gospel blues.

It’s all here—from the songsters, jug bands, deep South and Mississippi Basin blues, the downhome blues of the east coast and Texas, “classic” blues and women singers to rhythm and blues, when R&B stood for something vital. To borrow a phrase from our English cousins, this book is a veritable curate’s egg.

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