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I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy Hardcover – May 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"He was one of the most celebrated blues artists of his era, a visionary Chicago singer-songwriter who mentored Muddy Waters, introduced the music to Europe and inspired no less than Eric Clapton, Ray Davies and Pete Townshend (as they've all acknowledged).
But Big Bill Broonzy has been virtually forgotten by the popular culture he helped shape. . . . Which is why an important new book, I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy, comes not a moment too soon. In its pages, author Bob Riesman pieces together fragments of a hitherto under-documented life, giving Broonzy's achievements the honor they deserve."
(Howard Reich Chicago Tribune)

“Riesman does an excellent job of sifting through conflicting accounts of Broonzy’s marital and workforce history, often presenting multiple sides of the tales. He used a bewildering array of sources to help draw his conclusions, going through numerous archives, museums and music societies, as well as talking to those who were there for another point of view. . . . This book perceptively tells it all.”


"Wonderful. . . . With skill and sensitivity, Riesman has traced [Big Bill Broonzy's] scattered families and friends, and the letters, photographs and tapes they preserved, to fashion an intricately stitched patchwork of a life, and one of the great blues biographies."

“Compelling. . . . An important contribution to the literature of the blues as well as Chicago musical history.”

(Booklist (starred review) 2011-05-01)

“This book sets Bill’s extraordinary life and career in meticulously researched perspective. . . . If rock ‘n’ roll and all its recent spawn can in any sense be regarded as art, or carries any social meaning, or transmits reflective or historical relevance to those who love it, this book will help to explain why.”

(Pete Townshend)

“Bob Riesman has dug hard and deep into a world and a community to which few outsiders have been granted entrance. . . . This is the kind of book so engaging it simply leaves you wanting more.”

(Peter Guralnick, from the Foreword)

“Big Bill Broonzy was one of the most influential African American blues artists in the 1930s and 1940s and the leading figure in the spread of blues to Europe in the 1950s. Up to now, much of his life has been shrouded in mystery and fable, largely created by Broonzy himself. Bob Riesman’s book lifts the veil and reveals a life that was every bit as interesting as the legend.”
(David Evans, author The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to the Blues 2010-10-29)

“I knew Big Bill Broonzy in the 1940s and ’50s, near the end of his life. He was a great man, and one of the great musical artists of the twentieth century, as well as an intellectual, a term usually given to college people. I think he was genuinely reaching out all his life to different people. If it’s possible to put his story into words, Bob Riesman has done it in this book.”

(Pete Seeger 2011-02-21)

“Interesting and thorough. . . . Riesman has given readers a deeper understanding of Broonzy's astonishing achievements and how his legacy affected the social and musical landscape thereafter.”
(All About Jazz)

“After reading this biography, I have ungrudging affection and respect for Big Bill, admiration for his skills and acceptance of his foibles.”
(Boston Blues Society)

I Feel So Good is a worthy tribute to a fine artist.”
(Literary Review)

“With the fascinating and well-researched story Riesman tells in I Feel So Good, one wonders why the world does not know more about this bluesman.”

(Express Milwaukee)

About the Author

Bob Riesman is coeditor of Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage. He produced and co-wrote the television documentary American Roots Music: Chicago, and was a contributor to Routledge’s Encyclopedia of the Blues.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1st Ed. edition (May 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226717453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226717456
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,108,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ian K. Mckenzie on June 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Big Bill Broonzy was a hugely influential performer who overcame the endemic racism and Jim Crow laws in the southern states at the beginning of the last century, and went on (in Chicago) to found, almost single-handedly, a branch of blues music (small tight groups with guitar, piano, bass, drums, occasional harmonica or trumpet or sax and with front vocal) which spread from its Chicago base across the world. When that genre failed to provide Bill with sufficient income/ stimulation, he reinvented himself as a (mainly) solo performer, selling himself as a son of the soil and as a raconteur who claimed (and commented on) links to slavery and to the grinding poverty of life in Mississippi and Arkansas at the start of the 20th Century.

Bill recorded hundreds of songs, a large number of which he wrote himself. Between 1927 (his first recording) and 1947, he recorded 290 pieces, frequently demonstrating amazing guitar and vocal skills. In the period after 1947, to his death in 1958, Bill delighted audiences with his "I am a folk singer - the last of the bluesmen" persona, telling tales of life on the farm, in the US army, in the windy city and of love lost and found to say nothing of having fun - something Bill seems to have a penchant for. He often introduced himself by saying "My name is William Lee Conley Broonzy".

Bill regaled audiences with tales of his birth on 26 June 1893 and that of his twin sister Laney and of his father's response to being told he had twins to care for. He claimed to have served in the US Army in France from 1918 - 1919 and to have been invited by a record company to travel to the Delta following a major flood in 1927: Turns out, that a good deal of this was fiction.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By B. Laurence on August 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This monumental work is one of the very best Blues Bio you can ever own. Impeccably researched and far reaching in its scope, it is truly a must read for anyone interested in classic and modern Blues history, it's relationship with English Rock'n Roll, Trad Jazz, and the amazing journey of a major African-American American artist. Much of the Big Bill enigma is revealed, from intimate personal details, to how exactly he was the first solid and long lasting bridge to bring the Blues to Europe in person and on record. But what found fascinating is BBB's crucial role in the growth of the early Chicago Blues (and Folk too)scene. To hear Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Little Walter, Ray Davies speak of him with such warmth and emotion is priceless. I have been a BBB fan for decades. As with many Europeans in my case, he was my first contact with the Blues, and sparkled a fascination with American music. I actually moved to the USA and collect, play and teach American Blues and Folk music. This biography is remarkable in bringing out the Soul of the Man. Its many surprises and treasures all underline and match what the recordings reveal: a direct honesty, wisdom and self-knowledge we can all draw from. This outstanding read, while being the best Blues reference book in my collection, is also a deeply soulful, emotional page turner. I know I will read it again. With my deepest gratitude, Mr Riesman, thank you.Bertrand Laurence
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Idaho John on July 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I came to Big Bill late in life. I started with Robert Johnson and then graduated to Cream and from there to the Allman Brothers and missed so much in between. It is only after picking up the guitar again in late middle age that I came across Big Bill. The other far anyway, pay tribute to the musical versatility, acknowledge his skill with the guitar and in this book, his ability to reinvent himself - a chameleon as it were. But as I said in another review, it is the emotion in his music that captures me. Regardless of who or whom Big Bill was or claimed to be, he was first and foremost (in my mind at least) a consummate purveyor of emotion. And regardless of what motivated it, he was able to create a space in which the audience is invited to be a part of his experience. That is what makes him so important to me personally - I am privileged to be a part of Big Bill's journey from Arkansas to a wider world. Selfishly, I learn more about myself as part of a larger American experience as a result.

Another American icon of another generation - Will James - who came to symbolize the American West and who appeared to live through the golden sunset of the life of a working cowboy and whom wrote some beautiful books about his experiences was exposed to be a "poser." At that time, it seemed to a young reader to be a painful experience and as I reflect back on it, the material written about Mr. James was tinted with sarcasm and disrespect. The reader of this biography of Big Bill will find that the writer preserves Big Bill's and Lee Bradley's dignity. This book comes highly recommended.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Jefferson TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
3 page Forward by Peter Guralnick, 2 page Appreciation by Pete Townshend, 2 page Preface, 9 pages of Acknowledgments, 255 pages of text, 3 pages of a Selected Discography, 2 pages of Broonzy on film, plus extensive chapter notes and Index. Also included are 16 pages of b&w photographs throughout Broonzy's life. The paper used in this book meets the requirements for permanent paper. The end papers are a purplish color, with a textured swirly feel to it-a nice touch.

"...when you write about me, please don't say that I'm a jazz musician. Don't say I'm a musician or a guitar player-just write Big Bill was a well known blues singer and player...he was a happy man when he was drunk and playing with women; he was liked by all the blues singers...". These are Broonzy's own words from his 1955 autobiography "Big Bill Blues", and they seem to sum up a lot about the man and his music, and what you'll read in this new, fine biography by Bob Riesman, who was co-editor of "Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage".

Capable of morphing his style into whatever was needed at the time, Broonzy was also adept at re-inventing himself (Bill Broonzy wasn't his real name) throughout his life-which he did. Broonzy wrote many, many songs (hundreds) throughout his career, arguably the most well known is "Keys To The Highway", which has been (and continues to be) played by most any blues artist worthy of the name. But other songs like "House Rent Stomp", "Big Bill's Blues" and "Just A Dream" are still played today. Broonzy bridged the gap between country blues, and the more modern electric blues heard in the big city. But he was also capable of belting out a folk tune, or a then popular song to please his audience.
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