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Baby I can't drink whiskey but I'm a fool about my home made wine. Ain't no sense in leavin' Dallas, makes it there all the time - Blind Lemon Jefferson, Chock House Blues

Author Topic: Delta Blues  (Read 1598 times)

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Online dj

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Delta Blues
« on: April 06, 2009, 03:35:06 PM »
Has anyone read Delta Blues by Ted Gioia?  It wasn't a book I was anxious to read, but it was given to me as a gift, so I'm reading it - about one fifth of the way through at present.  Since I'm soliciting opinions on the book, I guess it's only fair to start with mine.  It's not a bad book, at least so far.  It's got a lot in it - 400 pages of text, plus notes, a list of recommended listening, and suggestions for further reading.  And the publisher has presented it nicely, with 14 pages of photographs and illustrations by Neil Harpe at the start of every chapter.  Gioia writes well enough, and the book is fairly easy read.  The book is packed with information, and the basic facts seem mostly right so far.  But I have to admit that I find the book a bit unsatisfying.  I think Gioia has an overly romantic view of his subject, a fact which jumps out at the reader on the second page of the preface when Gioia speaks of "traditional blues' ... resistance to corporate interference", ignoring the fact that almost all we know of the music he's writing about comes to us via recordings made in search of corporate profit, and that recorded repertoire and arrangements were often influenced by recording directors who were the employees of corporations and who were in search of what would sell the most to the largest audience.  It's not enough to make me put the book down, but it does keep bothering me while I read.  Just wondering how others have reacted to the book.     


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Delta Blues : A review
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2009, 04:49:35 PM »
I just became aware of this forum from a post in the pre-war blues forum at yahoo. I also saw a query about reviews of Ted Gioia's "Delta Blues." I posted a review on my blog,, and later on amazon that has been accused of being pedantic and nitpicking. Sailor Vernon did like my review. Of course how can a credible history of Mississippi or Delta blues exclude Albert King and Rice Miller which Gioia does.

Anyway a link to my review:

I also think the Blues & rhythm review was spot on.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Delta Blues
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2009, 06:13:27 PM »

Welcome to Weenie Campbell and thanks for the link to your blog and review. Ted occasionally posts to the Pre-War Blues Group (PWBG) and I seem to recall several posts while he was writing the book.

Your rigorous review points out the omissions and shortcomings. Knowing a little bit about the writing, editing and publishing process, I'm never really sure what to think about the "final form" that reaches the marketplace. Without knowing the inside story, it is difficult to know who to praise or blame. One is tempted to place the ultimate responsibility on the author, but the expertise and competence of the editors, as well as merchandising considerations regarding potential readership and sales, are also factors that loom large.

My impression is that Ted's book is along the lines of a "commission piece" for the general reader. But that's impressionistic and not analytic. I'm tempted to say that in an important, but under represented area of music, there's no such thing as bad publicity. However, if someone is going to write a book, why not write a meticulously researched, tightly written, comprehensive history of the Delta Blues that benefits from the input and feedback, in the form of critical evaluation and peer review, from others in the field, such as yourself and other members of the PWBG? IMHO, the result would have been "better publicity." But like I said, I don't know the inside story behind Ted's book.

Online dj

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Re: Delta Blues
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2009, 03:57:38 AM »
Thanks for the link to the review, Ron.

After reading the entire book, here's my final take:  I believe that Mr. Gioia has come recently to an appreciation of the blues, that he's fairly familiar with the music of the people who are seen by modern revivalists as the "stars" of "authentic" blues, that he holds a somewhat romanticized view of these musicians and their life and music, and that he doesn't have a very broad picture of the history of the blues, of "race" recording from the 1920s and 30s, or of the history of American popular music in general.  As such, I think this is a book I would have treasured when I was 18 and in had the same interests, romantic views, and holes in my knowledge.  And it will probably be treasured by those today who are in a similar state.

But I personally have moved on.  I have a lot more knowledge and am a lot less romantic, and rather than the fierce fire of new discovery, I look at the blues with the pleasure of long familiarity.  And from that vantage point, I find Gioia's book unsatisfactory.  I don't so much mind the people who were left out - there are, after all, many ways to look at a subject, with varying amounts of breadth and depth.  And I won't quibble with most of Gioia's facts (though he has a few howlers - Art Rupe of Specialty records is consistently referred to as "Art Rube".  Couldn't the publisher find a fairly knowledgeable blues scholar to proofread and fact check?).  Or the fact that the book could have more accurately been titled "Blues Musicians I Like Who Play Guitar And Have Some Connection To Mississippi".  What really bothered me is that Gioia, by not having enough background in blues history and styles, nor enough familiarity with American history and culture from the period covered, always seems to be looking at the facts he presents from the wrong perspective.  It seemed that on every other page, I'd stop and think "What you've just said is true, but it's just not quite right", if you know what I mean.       

One other thing that I found extremely annoying about the book:  On several occasions, Gioia sets up European music, especially what we today call Classical music, as a straw man to show how great his Delta heroes are.  I'm not going to take the time to pull out the book for an actual quote, but the following would be more or less typical: "These unschooled blues musicians, using only inexpensive guitars, developed forms of music that European Classical composers never dreamed of!"  True, of course.  I've always thought it was a failing of Beethoven's that he never thought of writing a boogie.  But on the other hand, Robert Johnson couldn't have been all that great - how many symphonies did he write?

Offline thecountryblues

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Re: Delta Blues
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2009, 03:05:48 PM »
"I've always thought it was a failing of Beethoven's that he never thought of writing a boogie."
DJ, what a classic line.
I often believe that Mozart and Beethoven would be amazed at some of the wonderful blues and jazz of the 20th century. Both of them loved and were inspired by, their own regional folk music, as played by the peasants and commoners outside in the streets, pubs and town squares.

If Beethoven had heard a boogie, he would have wailed "Ooooouuueeeeee, baby, what is THAT?!"
(no, not Frequency Modulation- Frank Matheis)


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