Hi folks. How’s everyone holding up these days? Keeping busy with the extra time? Going stir-crazy? I’ve had difficulty maintaining my motivation to blog, but I think about it and my general theme pretty much daily. Today I thought I’d check in and share my music listening and learning activities from the past couple of months with the extra time I’ve had on my hands. Thanks to hanspostcard for the nudge.
I’m typically a homebody, so I really don’t mind spending a bit more time at the shack. However, the month of May was shaping up to be possibly the biggest singular month for attending live shows in my lifetime. On tap was a club show by the Jayhawks next week which has been rescheduled for December, then late in the month I have tickets for the James Taylor/Jackson Browne show in Ft. Worth followed a few days later by the Rolling Stones in Dallas. Thankfully they will also be rescheduled. Hopefully.
A few months back an acquaintance turned me on to abe.com. If you like to read and don’t mind used books, this is a great resource. It’s been a revelation for me, especially since my my ritual of visiting Half Price Books and Records once a week came to an abrupt if temporary end. You can find good titles at dirt cheap prices, often with no shipping cost. I’ve consistently maintained a “yet to read” stack of three to five books as a result. The following is an overview of the various music rabbit holes I’ve been exploring recently through CD’s, books, and video as I’ve taken a bit of a detour from my usual topic of 50th anniversaries of album releases. I suppose if there’s one binding theme in them, it’s American roots music and culture.
I’d imagine most fans of rock-n-roll are at least somewhat familiar with the influence of blues and folk music from the South, especially the Mississippi Delta. But beyond a cursory knowledge and owning a few albums by Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and other contemporaries of theirs, I decided it was way past time to read a little more in depth about early blues music. I did a search of the more highly regarded books and decided on three for now, all of which cover different aspects of the blues. I’ve provided links for further information at the bottom of this post.
In The Land Where the Blues Began (1970), American ethnomusicologist/folklorist Alan Lomax wrote of his field studies in the Delta region in the 1930’s and 40’s in a lengthy project underwritten by the Library of Congress. In it he shares stories of having to gain permission from local sheriffs, wardens, and plantation owners to speak to the local black musicians, preachers, laborers, and prisoners at the levee camps, prisons, churches, juke joints, etc. about their experiences which formed their world, and thus their music. Lomax also directed an hour long documentary of the same title in 1979, a rough copy of which can currently be found on YouTube.
Paul Oliver’s The Blues Fell This Morning (1960) is one of the earliest accounts of what is actually meant by the lyrics and themes of blues songs, which he sourced from his his vast collection of 78 rpm “race records,” many quite obscure, dating back to the 1920’s. Oliver was a white British historian who hadn’t even set foot in America when he published this book, but his credentials were bolstered by the famous African American writer Richard Wright, who contributed the forward. To me, these latter aspects make the book itself historical and interesting. Rounding out my Blues Education 101 trilogy is Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues (1982), which arrived in my mailbox yesterday afternoon, beautifully mangled by its previous owner(s) (That really isn’t a complaint – it cost maybe $3). I anticipate this book to be an account of the actual musicians from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, etc. and the migration of musicians and music from the Deep South to the northern industrial centers, especially Chicago.
I suppose in a positive development in terms of my impulse to write, I’m going to cut this short and break it up into one or two more entries lest I ramble on a little too long. Thanks for stopping by.