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Portrait of the Blues by Paul Trynka; photography by Val Wilmer

Photographer (and journalist) Val Wilmer is no Johnny- er- Frankie-come-lately to the music scene. For over 20 years her photographs of blues and jazz musicians have graced the pages of too many magazines and books to mention. An Englishwoman, her first photos here were taken in various British venues in the ’60s. (Terrific shots of Koko Taylor, Wolf, Memphis Slim and others!) In the ’70s she began touring the States and taking photos of people and places that illustrate the wellsprings of the blues. Interspersed among pictures of the famous, e.g., Lowell Fulson (having breakfast with Margie Evans) and Willie Dixon, are photos of locals like Big John Wrencher playing on Maxwell Street and Moses “Whispering” Smith playing harmonica for some kids on his Baton Rouge porch.

Paul Trynka’s 50-plus interviews are equally intriguing. Who knew, for example, that Albert (“Master of the Telecaster”) Collins had eyes to be a Hammond B-3 player-and would have become, except for the curious hand of fate. In the “If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck” chapter Robert Ward, Dave Myers and others describe a side of the music business that fans never see. Each interviewee gets a brief biographical sketch with recommended recordings. This is the best photo/interview blues book since 1975’s BLUES by Robert Neff and Anthony Connor. A few shots of classic Chicago club action by Raeburn Flerlage add extra punch to this superb work.

Originally Published