Synopses & Reviews
Robert Johnson's story presents a fascinating paradox: Why did this genius of the Delta blues excite so little interest when his records were first released in the 1930s? And how did this brilliant but obscure musician come to be hailed long after his death as the most important artist in early blues and a founding father of rock 'n' roll?
Elijah Wald provides the first thorough examination of Johnson's work and makes it the centerpiece for a fresh look at the entire history of the blues. He traces the music's rural folk roots but focuses on its evolution as a hot, hip African-American pop style, placing the great blues stars in their proper place as innovative popular artists during one of the most exciting periods in American music. He then goes on to explore how the image of the blues was reshaped by a world of generally white fans, with very different standards and dreams.
The result is a view of the blues from the inside, based not only on recordings but also on the recollections of the musicians themselves, the African-American press, and original research. Wald presents previously unpublished studies of what people on Delta plantations were actually listening to during the blues era, showing the larger world in which Johnson's music was conceived. What emerges is a new respect and appreciation for the creators of what many consider to be America's deepest and most influential music.
Wald also discusses how later fans formed a new view of the blues as haunting Delta folklore. While trying to separate fantasy from reality, he accepts that neither the simple history nor the romantic legend is the whole story. Each has its own fascinating history, and it is these twin histories that inform this book.
"Wald writes better than anyone else ever has about the blues. If you read only one book about blues maybe ever read this one." Booklist (Starred Review)
"With weighty research and an acute personal knowledge, Wald takes a candid look at the music as a whole and at his own aesthetics as a white musician, fan, and journalist, removing many of the stereotypes and much of the folklore built up over the last century." Library Journal
"Wald's theories will no doubt cause passionate discussions among true blues aficionados, but the technical and obscure nature of much of his writing will make the book more of a useful reference resource." Publishers Weekly
Robert Johnson s fame is at the center of one of the most fascinating paradoxes in American music: Why is it that this genius of the Mississippi Delta blues excited so little interest when his records were first released in the 1930s? And how did this brilliant but obscure musician come to be hailed long after his death as the most important artist in early blues and a founding influence on rock n roll? Elijah Wald takes these paired questions as a point of departure for a fresh look at the entire history of blues, and the first thorough attempt to explore Johnson as a musician rather than a myth. This book is a unique attempt to place Johnson and his peers back in the mainstream of their times, and to try to understand them on their own terms. Following the story up to the present, Wald explores how the history and values of blues were reshaped by later, generally white fans, who came to the music with very different standards and dreams than the African-American consumers of earlier years. While sharing some of the romanticism that has created the modern mythology, Wald knows that neither the simple history nor the absorbing legend is the whole story. Each has its place, and its own fascinating history, and it is these twin histories that inform this fascinating book.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -321) and indexes.
About the Author
Elijah Wald is a writer and musician with twenty years experience covering roots and world music. He was writer and consultant on the Smithsonian multimedia project The Mississippi: River of Song, and is the author of the award-winning biography Josh White: Society Blues.