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If I don't read, my soul'l be lost, nobody's fault but mine - Blind Willie Johnson, Nobody's Fault But Mine

Author Topic: New Paul Oliver Book  (Read 3723 times)

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Offline jharris

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New Paul Oliver Book
« on: February 03, 2009, 04:25:31 PM »
Barrelhouse Blues: Location Recording and the Early Traditions of the Blues (August 24, 2009)

http://tinyurl.com/b2mg89

No information on this. Anyone heard anything?

-Jeff H.

Offline Stuart

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2009, 04:41:58 PM »
There was just a post to the PWBG about Barrelhouse Blues. It looks like it is available. Has anybody read it?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2009, 06:22:24 AM »
It seems that in the UK it's not published until 3rd September.

I do like the way Amazon makes available a portion of the introduction for us to get an idea of the perspective etc.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2009, 06:45:15 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Richard

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2009, 01:32:56 PM »
I followed the Paul Oliver links around Amazon and eventually came to that wonderful fact filled gem, "The Story of the Blues" which only had attained 3 stars in the reviews, it should have had six out of five.

Sadly this quote does seem to sum up an awful lot of folk, but at least he didn't mention Clapton... or are we just anoracks ?

Quote
When you finally to get something about Robert Johnson at page 133, he is dispatched after a couple of pages, which I found pretty disappointing.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Stuart

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2009, 05:02:36 PM »
I hear you, Richard.

One of the reviews (the 2 star) is posted twice, which says something about Amazon's monitoring of their reader's reviews. I am not aware of any standards that are used to determine whether or not one is qualified to post a review. And I have yet to see a reader review on Amazon in which the reviewer clearly and thoroughly states the criterion or criteria that he or she used in the process of formulating the judgments that are either stated or implied in the review. There are always presuppositions at work and it would be nice for the reviewer to state what they are, but for that to happen the reviewer first has to know and understand what they are, as well as to know and understand where they are derived from and what basis they have.

Having said all of this, I have never seen a negative pre-publication review.

The problem is, of course, that readers can either be steered away from books well worth buying and/or reading or persuaded to buy and/or waste time on clunkers. I don't know what the ultimate solution is.

Paul Oliver has a large body of work, and what I have read is all top shelf stuff. IMHO, it would be a shame if someone was steered away from "The Story of the Blues" (or any of his writings, for that matter) owing to a misinformed post on Amazon.com.

Offline waxwing

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2009, 05:51:00 PM »
Well, like the myriad review systems on the internet, it's really just a popularity contest, and assuming that there are any intelligent criteria seems a bit naive. But bury that negative review with dozens from true believers and no one will ever see it.

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2009, 04:02:56 AM »
Quote
When you finally to get something about Robert Johnson at page 133, he is dispatched after a couple of pages, which I found pretty disappointing.
What probably hasn't struck the 'reviewer' is that the book was written in 1968 and published 1969. The Johnson mystique was barely into a full head of steam.  ::)

Offline Richard

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2009, 12:29:41 PM »
I think it's probably safe say that if all the hype of having tea with devil, getting killed as he did and all the rest of it had never been mentioned, then would this reviewer would be looking for him at all  :-\
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline dj

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2009, 12:32:54 PM »
Quote
having tea with devil

Wasn't that Al Bowlly who did that?   :P

Offline Richard

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2009, 12:02:49 AM »
Al Bowlly, now then, I thought he owned the tea rooms...
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline TonyGilroy

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2010, 04:12:21 AM »

I've just finished this and was seriously disappointed.

Silly mistakes. "Blind" Washington Phillips? Louis Jordan when clearly Luke was intended but more importantly it just seemed like a run through of sessions from B&GR with some attempt to allege some significance (lost on me) as to whether a recording was made on location or by the same performer in a northern studio.

The whole book just seemed shoddy and pointless.

I'm a big admirer of Paul Oliver and I really don't want to feel that way. Maybe it's just a book too many for a man in his 80s.

Has anyone who has read this got an alternative positive view. Can anyone persuade me that I'm being unfair.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2010, 11:48:00 AM »
I'm afraid I too found the book a great disappointment. It is a very dull read. It is not so much shallow as stale. Here's Howard Rye's review for Blues & Rhythm.

BARRELHOUSE BLUES: Location Recording and the Early Traditions of the Blues
by Paul Oliver
Basic Civitas Books, New York City, 2009, [v] + 228pp, hardback, ISBN 9778-0-465-00881-0. $24.95

The introduction to Paul Oliver?s latest work reveals an intention to address some of the issues raised, but left unanswered, in Alain Locke?s 1937 The Negro and His Music. Reviewing the work of earlier scholastic song collectors, he asked, says Paul, ?Why were the secular songs neglected? How have they been recovered? Do we have them in their earliest form? Are ?Blues? or folk ballads older? What are the distinctive verse and musical forms of each? What are the ?zones? of Negro folk music and their characteristics? Is the musical structure of the blues original? And racial? How racially distinctive are the moods? Even where the themes are common to Anglo-Saxon folk ballads, are there differences? What is the ?John Henry? saga? What is ?the home of the blues?? Who is called the ?Father of the Blues?? Are the later ?artificial blues? different? Whose work are they??

Which is a lot of questions, some of which may seem hardly worth posing in the present state of knowledge, but most of which are still pertinent, and some certainly still controversial. Readers of these lines will not be surprised that the answers are sought primarily in the activities of commercial field-recording units, ?the best access to unspoiled and unmanaged seculars and blues songs that were in currency in the South during the 1920s and 1930s.?

The chapters ?Seeking Seculars? and ?Travelin? Men? tell the early history of these units. In the usual Oliver fashion significant lyrics are quoted and studied. A brief digression into ?coon songs? acknowledges the importance of the recorded legacy of Pete Hampton, who was almost alone amongst African-Americans in recording this material when it was current, which he could do only in London. These also are commercial field recordings.

?Songsters of the South? revisits medicine shows, and addresses the questions about ballads raised by Locke, both the Anglo-Saxon connections and ?John Henry?, and the boll weevil, and Richard Brown?s ?The Sinking of the Titanic?. ?Frankie and Albert? and ?Railroad Bill? also make an appearance prior to a consideration of the influence of the travelling shows in disseminating songs. Of the folk songsters who recorded on location, Oliver observes, ?all song types were grist to their musical mill, and adapting ballads to emphasize personal expression in the blues form was evident in the many location recordings of Jim Jackson, Peg Leg Howell, John Hurt, Frank Stokes, and their contemporaries. Blues gave them freedom to invent new lyrics with comparative ease, as well as incorporating floating verses.?

?Long Lonesome Blues? addresses itself more specifically to performance styles and what distinguishes them. Oliver is convinced of the direct influence of field hollers on blues, which is increasingly denied in some quarters, and cites examples to support this thesis. The chapter ends with an important consideration of how field units operated, how particular takes came to be chosen (no very definite conclusion here) and how the artists came to be selected. Interview material with Texas talent scout Sam Ayo is particularly interesting.

The book moves on to specific consideration of location recordings made by women. ?Country Breakdown? looks at string band music, and gives a consideration to interactions with white folk music. Like gospel music, says Oliver, the white country artists ?constituted a significant aspect of the musical contexts in which the secular recordings were made.? Consideration is given to the Oscar Woods-Eddie Schaffer-Jimmie Davis overlap in Shreveport, and to De Ford Bailey. Oddly perhaps, the recordings by Jimmie Rodgers with African-American artists do not get consideration, and his influence is considered only in passing.

?Times Tight Like That? carries the story through the Depression to ?On The Road Again?, which chronicles the activities of the units on the road in the mid 30s. It ends with consideration of the factors which brought an end to the use of these units after 1939. Throughout these chapters, there is an inevitable tension between the fundamentally chronological framework for examining the activities of the field recording units, and drawing out song by song material that helps to answer Locke?s questions. This is probably all to the good and the book functions very well as a catalogue of the field units and their most significant achievements in documenting both art and history.

Chapter 9, ?Second Thoughts On Seculars?, is Oliver?s own attempt to bring some of the threads together and will be the most interesting to the many readers who will have visited much of the earlier material before, most likely through the medium of Paul Oliver?s own earlier works. ?Early collectors of spirituals may have deliberately omitted seculars?, he observes, ?but when commercial recording began and field units were dispatched on location neither all religious songs nor all secular songs were recorded.? Locke was apparently unaware of the extensive location recording of religious material in the twenties and thirties. After all, no discographies were available to him.

An important section of this chapter is devoted to work songs and Oliver reports a documented association with sea shanties from the memoirs of a seaman named Robert Hay, who was at sea from 1789 to 1847. This may have been noted before, but not by me. It seems especially relevant then to quote from an African-American shanty recorded by Robert W. Gordon in 1926. Oliver evidently considers that work songs have only a limited connection with blues but that calls and hollers ?undoubtedly contributed to its emergence?.

In the final chapter Locke?s questions are considered in turn. Some of course remain unanswered and are possibly unanswerable: ?Do we have them in their earliest forms?? for one. I am very glad that the author observes that ?what is truly significant is the individuality of blues singers and instrumentalists,? which is sometimes overlooked. It is a pity that it is still necessary to say that ?If a particular behavioural pattern characterizes an ethnic group, it is attributable to the influence of older generations on younger ones, not inheritance by race,? but it is, and all the more so because there are now some who think it racist to acknowledge the passing on of cultural practices and the resulting uniqueness of cultures, however blurry at the edges. Evidently no one now knows what Locke had in mind by referring to ?artificial blues?, which results in this chapter ending rather unfortunately with a damp squib of commonplaces about pop music.

The book is dedicated to Johnny Parth, ?without whose inspiration, commitment and dedication, several of my books on the blues and related fields would not have been possible, including this one.? And so say all of us. There are of course comprehensive discographical and bibliographic listings, and name and subject indexes.
« Last Edit: September 14, 2010, 11:49:59 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline blueshome

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2010, 12:54:33 PM »
I got this last Xmas and was deeply disappointed. It really seems mostly a rehash of Recording the Blues with lists of sessions and little real development of any theme apart from the straw man of Locke. I really didn't see the point of this book.

Offline dj

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2010, 01:14:12 PM »
Quote
Maybe it's just a book too many for a man in his 80s.

Quote
It is not so much shallow as stale.

While it's always possible that this is just one book too many for a man in his 80s, I think many of the book's problems stem from two other sources.

To deal with the easiest first, the "silly mistakes" are entirely due to the fact that we live in an age when good editing, including proofreading and fact checking, is increasingly a thing of the past.  I regularly see "silly mistakes" in serious books printed in the 21st century that one just doesn't encounter in books published 40 years earlier.

As for the "stale" criticism, I think it's entirely valid.  But the book sprang from a set of Alain Leroy Locke Lectures that Oliver gave at Harvard in 2007.  Locke may well have been a brilliant man, but his writing, which Oliver is shaping his lectures around, took place 80 years ago, and his understanding of blues music and culture is far different from what ours is today.  A lot of the terminology and categories that Oliver is forced to use to link his discussion to Locke's work just feel at best stale and at worst clumsy and outdated. Perhaps Oliver would have handled fitting his writing to Locke's framework better 30 years ago, but perhaps not. 

For me the book was slow going in the opening and closing chapters that were most dependent on Locke's ideas, and much better in the middle which to me was more than just a recap of Goodrich and Dixon's Recording The Blues. 

(As an aside, Recording The Blues was one of the first books on early blues that I bought.  I still have it, 40 years later.  It's absolutely falling apart from repeated reading over the years - pages falling out, covers off - but it's an old and very valued friend.)        


Offline Michael Cardenas

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Re: New Paul Oliver Book
« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2010, 11:34:10 AM »
The ageism in this thread straight up sucks. Howard Rye seems to buy into and frame/allege elitist concern within a critical dissection - quoting field recordings as "unspoiled" as if a microphone in a field is a somehow more authentic representation insinuating such individuals are stricken with relative Lomaxian romanticism. If the critic wants to set up the readership without even answering what an assumed reader is interested in, why would he bother asking the previous barrage if he already knew EXACTLY who is going to read the book and why? So great Rye takes the bait, but I doubt Oliver is clueless as to who will or will not gobble a book which uses field recordings as a literary fulcrum.

Who is this cabal of blues afficianados which deny the influence of field hollers? Is this the same Broad Stroke Painting Society which claim Blues is simply a reactionary reinvention of gospel? And would these same covert Blues operatives champion the chain gang motif over field holler since their origin theories stem post-war? The insight of country music recorded in the same context of gospel is quite valuable, is there another author presenting Old Time music in relation to gospel this way? Are there other authors who even care or does everyone, critics and readership included get upset that Oliver ratchets the dominant secular force in early Blues by detouring gospel grip?

Pop is artificial blues, what's there not to get?

Quote
It is a pity that it is still necessary to say that ?If a particular behavioural pattern characterizes an ethnic group, it is attributable to the influence of older generations on younger ones, not inheritance by race,? but it is, and all the more so because there are now some who think it racist to acknowledge the passing on of cultural practices and the resulting uniqueness of cultures, however blurry at the edges.

Last time I checked musical instruments were not a part of the blood stream or race, it is possible to learn songs with them, songs which the previous generation hand down. Often times the elders will divest their instruments into subsequent generations, but such instruments are either too worn or precious; still has nothing to do with race. If there is a debate for culture here it's probably a sundry nationalism (war-story) which traverses generations through epic saga and the melodies slathered onto folkloric narratives over centuries. It is not a pity to bring these things up. Incidently I enjoy the lyrical ponderances. These are sometimes the only instances where authors assume a tightrope along otherwise stale subject matter. The book will make sense in 50 years.
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