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Well we called us the Mississippi Sheiks, all of us Chatmons, cause my name is Bo Chatman only they call me Bo Carter. We toured with the band right through the country; through the Delta, through Louisiana down to New Orleans, serenadin' - Bo Carter

Author Topic: Land Of The Blues 1959  (Read 2802 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Land Of The Blues 1959
« on: January 27, 2007, 12:38:23 PM »
Not sure that this actually belongs here, but what the hell, it can be moved.

I was thumbing through my Juke Blues magazines and spotted the following review. A quick look at the web site seems to indicate it's still available. The book was accorded a double page spread in Blues & Rhythm but that's 1500 words in length.

by Jacques Dem?tre & Marcel Chauvard
CLARB/Soul Bag (France), 1994
ISBN 2-905980-03-6 176pp, illus.,
hardback, 190F

In 1959 Jacques Dem?tre and Marcel Chauvard set off from Paris on a ground-breaking trip to the United States, to see and interview blues artists in their own environment. The story of that journey was originally published in instalments in the French Jazz Hot magazine. At long last it is now presented in book form, with additional photographs.

An introduction by Sebastian Danchin sets the scene, putting the long history of Franco/Belgian enthusiasm for black music into context. As he reminds us, there was precious little known by Europeans about blues in those days! Dem?tre had gleaned information from collecting 78s and the rare encounter with musicians visiting Paris.

The first stop was New York, where they had been invited to stay with Champion Jack Dupree. Jack took them to Bobby Robinson's shop/studio and things snowballed from there as they met Tarheel Slim & Little Ann, Jimmy Spruill, and later at Old Town, Henry Glover. The list of artists they met, or saw performing could fill a whole paragraph. Sammy Price was to prove an interesting diversion as he campaigned for blacks to register as voters. I also liked the description of Prof. Alex Bradford bill-topping at the Apollo, and what was encountered at Daddy Grace's church.

These two 'innocents abroad' had had their first taste of blues in the ghetto environment. They greeted it with a combination of wide-eyed wonderment, huge enthusiasm, political awareness and, to a certain extent, embarrassing naivety!

But Detroit was to prove even more of an eye-opener. Going straight to Joe Von Battle's shop on Hastings Street (and you can't get much tougher than that), Von Battle himself seems to have been friendly and cooperative, and introduced them to an incredulous John Lee Hooker, Little Sonny and Emmitt Slay, among others. There's an amusing account of Slay trying to get Hooker to play his guitar 'correctly'! So far so good, but they had their first hostile experience at the Apex Club with members of Eddie Kirkland's band, who didn't appreciate two white foreigners asking questions. However Joe Von Battle sent them on their way to Chicago with an armful of JVB 78s!

The Chicago section takes up half the book. Their thrills and spills are too numerous to explain in detail, but they  had the great honour of seeing Muddy live (with Pat Hare, James Cotton and Little Walter), Wolf live (with Willie Johnson and Hubert Sumlin) and of course, Elmore James. Discographically, Veejay was helpful, while Ralph Bass at Chess was not. But most touching are the stories of their meetings with Curtiss Jones, Tampa Red and Kokomo Arnold. There is much in between these phenomenal events.

Throughout the book, I had to keep pinching myself. Some scenarios were so familiar?but this was 1959?and reading about most of these greats in the present tense was unsettling. Inevitably there is much social comment, some incredibly perceptive for such 'aliens', other parts cringe-making? but only because we are now in 1995. But the general editing is spot-on. There is very little 'travelogue' about it?just enough to convey important images of the urban environment.

So what of the presentation? The text runs side by side in English and French, with photographs cleverly juggled so that each chapter ends in the same place. The translation is about 99% OK, but I did find myself having to refer to the French once in a while for precise meaning?which led me to discover that there's marginally more information in the French text than the English. Some of the intentional 'stylistic updates 'rankle a bit?I'm sure that the New York subway and Chicago El were not referred to as 'rapid transit systems' in 1959!

Then there are the photographs. Where else can you find Jimmy Spruill and Champion Jack Dupree together outside the Apollo, or Lafayette Thomas, or John Lee Hooker (several times) at Joe Von Battle's shop, B.B. King and band members relaxing in Chicago, Buddy Guy with Bobby Fields at Theresa's, St Louis Jimmy and Little Brother Montgomery, Mayo Williams and Sunnyland Slim, Kokomo Arnold, Elmore?and the very young George Buford? It is a shame though that many were colour originals have not reproduced terribly well in black and white. The cover is handsome mat black, with a varnished photo of Muddy, Little Walter and St Louis Jimmy.

Although I'm left with a lingering 'tell me more' when reading of 'in depth interviews' the intrepid Demetre and now late Chauvard conducted, I found the book riveting. Never once did the 'we know better now, don't we?' snigger flicker across my mind, because it's all so fresh, even 35 years on. The main feeling I got was, 'if only I could have been there...'. This is remarkable research, and should be on all blues fans' bookshelves, despite the high price. Congratulations to Jacques Dem?tre and Soul Bag for their dedication.
Cilla Huggins (Juke Blues, Spring 1995, p. 49)


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