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The History Of The Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People Paperback – September 2, 2003


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The History Of The Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People + Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta + Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (September 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306812967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306812965
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 6.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Davis, music critic for the Atlantic, treats the history of the blues with an emphasis on his own involvement with this music. He believes that attempts to discover the origins of the blues, often based on simplistic theories about slavery and Africa, are inconclusive, and he stresses that the interaction between recordings and the actual music makes it difficult to follow the music's internal development. He touches on the issue of white involvement with the blues and concludes with an elaborate "Blues Timeline" showing how significant dates in blues history relate to developments in jazz, pop, theater and literature as well as to important events in American history, arts, sciences and technology. His impressionistic text rambles at times, but numerous passages on individual performers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly and others are engaging, as are accounts of his trips to Memphis and Mississippi to see where it all began. Selected discography. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Since its origin in Mississippi before the turn of the century, the blues has been pronounced dead many times. Davis (music critic of the Atlantic) assures us that it "rises up like Lazarus every ten years or so." This book, published in advance of a three-part PBS companion series scheduled to air in the fall of 1995, is a great starting place in understanding the continued appeal of this uniquely American music. Moving from its roots in field hollers, work songs, spirituals, country reels, and Anglo-Scottish ballads to its present-day uses selling diet soda and laxatives, Davis profiles the major artists and the developmental changes of the music. An extensive discography and bibliography give ample resources for future exploration, while a "Blues Timeline" offers an at-a-glance overview of blues milestones in relation to corresponding events in art and history. This fine introduction to the blues is recommended for most libraries.
Dan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, Pa.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Howard Sauertieg on July 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
History of the Blues is criticized for the author's "cynicism," but the author is justified in seeking to modify or correct much of the last century's "blues scholarship." The book is more valuable because Davis doesn't accept the suppositions and theories of earlier writers, and in the first chapters the author establishes that "the blues" are far more complex, socially and musically, than we've been led to believe. He writes with wit and plenty of feeling - but the feeling expressed is one of annoyance with blues and folk "scholars" who have either not researched very thoroughly, or who have deliberately ignored facts that subvert their simplistic theories. What are the blues? Where did they come from? What's happened to the blues since mid-century? Davis examines all of these questions and comes up with some reasonable and provocative answers. The book isn't meant to be a study of individual blues musicians; such works have already been written (by Samuel Charters, Peter Guralnick, Pete Oliver) and they were well-done. The History of the Blues is a very readable account of a century of confusion, best approached with an open and attentive mind.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Filacchione on August 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
I wonder if this person even read the same book that I am reading. Some people won't like this book simply because it does not always take a traditionalist view of things. It is much broader and more open minded and tends to look at the blues from a broader region (IOW, there are blues outside of the Delta region) in order to gain a better understanding of it, it's performers, and theories as to it's origins. It challenges common accepted notions, and encourages the reader to challenge them as well. Sure the author injects his own opinions and experiences from time to time, but not only does he back them up, he does not try to pass them off as concrete fact, and you are fully aware that these are his thoughts on a particular matter.

Now as far as some of the listed "inaccuracies" in the book... Tony states:

"he stupidly tries to talk about Bluegrass existing in the 1920s or about the Carter family." Well, what Francis Davis ACTUALLY says is the following:

"the repertoire of the typical black country songster of the 1920's was more or less identical to that of the white rural performers of the same period. [snip a sentence abt Miss. John Hurt] The typical black songster was probably someone like Leslie Riddle, a singer and guitarist from North Carolina who didn't record until the blues revival of the 1960s, and who might be completely forgotten now if not for his early relationship with A.P. Carter, the patriarch of the Carter Family, the legendary white country harmony group...."

The fact is that Leslie Riddle DID meet A.P. Carter in 1928. The two went on trips throughout the south "collecting songs" with A.P. Carter writing down the words to the songs they liked, and Riddle remembering the Music.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Finally, an "historian" who doesn't pretend to be an objective, impartial documenter of facts. This is Davis' version of the blues, and he lets you know it. Thankfully, he has the skill of a consummate wordsmith, an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject matter and a fan's love and appreciation for the music. This reads like a conversation with an old, knowledgeable friend and I, for one, find that refreshing. Definitely worth the time for anyone who's interested in something more than simple facts, dates and names
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert G. Muller on February 26, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Overall, I liked this book. I came away from it with a greater understanding of the history of the blues, which was my intent going in. Davis is not afraid to challenge the status quo, which I respect, and back up his assertions with reason. He gives a good cross section of the people and places involved, and he seems to care about the subject (I feel that's important in a writer).

The major problem I had with this book is the style of writing. You sometimes have to read around Davis' words to get to the meat of the subject. His style thoroughly expresses his socio-political views, but that's not what I'd expect readers of this sort of book to be looking for. Maybe he misread his audience, or just has (or at least had at the time), a writing style that could not adapt to writing for readers looking to understand history. It's also possible that he purposely wrote it, with sales and marketing in mind, to appeal to an audience that he perceived as being large (i.e., "Clinton democrats"), but I believe a history book needs to transcend sociopolitical whims.

A recent reviewer said that Davis puts down African-Americans, but I simply don't believe that's true. In fact, I felt as though he reveres the black blues performers, both male and female. He does point out some of their individual imperfections, but that may actually be a good thing in this era of revisionist historians who are afraid to even mention the imperfections in the oppressed or the good sides of oppressors. By pointing out some of the personal imperfections, he actually leads us to a greater understanding of the people behind the music. As both a blues guitarist, and history researcher and writer myself, I value that.
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