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Books on Blues

I'LL TAKE YOU THERE...An Oral and Photographic History of the Hines Farm Blues Club
by Matthew A. Donahue Jive Bomb Press $12.95
While there are only 40 pages of text, there are an equal number of pages jampacked with photographs and poster graphics that are equally beautiful and fascinating. The blues club, Hines Farm, located in Toledo, Ohio, and founded by Frank and Sarah Hines in the early `40s, ran strong from it's inception until the early `70s. Many traveling blues acts, including Eddie Kirkland, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Bo Bo Jenkins, Big Jack Reynolds, Little Johnnie Taylor and Freddie King regularly worked at this venue, as well as jazz musicians including Count Basie and Gene Ludwig. Hines Farm also hosted numerous events for the local black motorcycle club the Atomic Pirates (!). This book is a breath of fresh air covering an obviously neglected, but never-the-less interesting and important piece of postwar blues history.

MOANIN' AT MIDNIGHT: The Life & Times of Howlin' Wolf

by James Segrest & Mark Hoffman Pantheon Books $26.95
A lot of blues fans have eagerly been awaiting the publication of this book and thankfully the wait was not in vain. Thoroughly researched, "Moanin' at Midnight" traces Wolf's life from his tragic childhood in Mississippi right up until his death on January 10th, 1976 in Hines, IL. Conversations with Wolf's widow (the late Lillie Burnett), the few surviving musicians who worked with him as well as other members of the international blues community and music business all help to flesh out a truly impressive biography of the man whom I personally feel was the greatest blues singer of all time. This book is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL for any blues fan!

PARAMOUNT'S RISE AND FALL:

A History of the Wisconsin Chair Company
And Its Recording Activities
by Alex van der Turk
Mainspring Press $45.00
The illustrious Paramount Records label is legendary among blues, jazz and country record collectors quite simply because during the duration of it's relatively short history such important and influential musicians as Blind Lemon Jefferson (often referred to as the "first superstar of blues recordings"), Blind Blake, Charley Patton, Son House, Skip James, Johnny Dodds, King Oliver, Jimmy O'Bryant, Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Ma Rainey, et al., all recorded for this Wisconsin-based company in the 1920s! Paramount material also surfaced (and in some cases resurfaced) on various labels during the early and mid 1930s and was eventually bought and briefly reactivated in the 1940s by the late archivist, researcher and record collector John Steiner (see story, page 15). Fully illustrated with marvelous and rare photographs, ad sheets, etc. this book is an absolute joy not only for seasoned (or in my case demented) record collectors, but fans of Americana. After reading this book, you will no doubt find yourself walking away with a little bit more information regarding the furniture business than you may have originally anticipated, but the well researched information & history chronicling Paramount's recording activities and their artists is priceless! This is a must-read of EVERYONE interested in early blues, jazz or country music!

Fat Possum Records: Darker Blues
Photography by David Raccuglia $39.99
This hard bound book chronicles the history as well as providing a hint of the future of Fat Possum Records. Showcasing David Raccuglia's beautiful photographs via numerous album cover reproductions and previously unpublished photos of R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, Cedall Davis, 20 Miles, Robert Pete Williams, Solomon Burke, et al. Brief text documents the label and their respective artists' histories. "Darker Blues" is an interesting and well thought out documentation illustrating a truly adventurous independent label.

Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues
by Steve Cheseborough $17.99
Steve Cheseborough spent many years researching and traveling the Deep South and his hard work is well represented in this wonderful book. Information explaining the history of both the music and numerous musicians, the various states that the musicians lived in and traveled to and from and their recordings, dozens of great unpublished photos and maps all help to flesh out what is both a history book and travel guide. This book is an absolute joy for both the seasoned and new blues fans interested in the land where the blues began.

Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story
by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks and Ward Gaines, $24.95
Without a doubt, Little Walter Jacobs was the most influential and prolific harmonica player in postwar blues history. The three authors of this book have done an absolutely incredible job researching Walter's rather sketchy history with amazing results. Glover, Dirks and Gaines talked to dozens of his peers and friends, digging deep utilizing newspaper, magazine, record liner notes and historical resources (such as the Chicago Musicians Union) and their combined efforts have produced one of the best, bar none, biographies ever! There are many previously unknown facts as well as speculations that will delight even the hardest core blues scholar! The sheer quantity and quality of unpublished photos, record ads and historical documents is just mind boggling. This is one book that should be on EVERY blues fans' shelf.

The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James
by Steve Franz, $34.95
While this book is beautifully illustrated with many great photographs, record ads and reproductions of various record labels, etc., there really isn't any new and/or surprising information that already hasn't been published elsewhere. This lavish softbound book is really just an expanded version of a discography that Franz produced years ago and nothing more. There hasn't been a book completely dedicated to Elmore before, but until someone else does a better and more thorough job incorporating deeper research, etc., it will have to do for now.

Motown: The Golden Years
by Bill Dahl with photos by Weldon A. McDougal, $24.95
For a little under 25 bucks, this book is indeed quite a bargain. Thoroughly researched by Dahl, this book is the best one you could find about the Motor City's fantastic legacy. The previously unpublished photos and reproductions of record picture sleeves, album covers, playbills, posters and record labels are just astounding! This book is very highly recommended for fans of both soul and blues music.

-George Hansen

Can't Be Satisfied

More than satisfactory bio by Robert Gordon, Little Brown & Co.

One of the best blues bios has been written by a guy who apparently never met his subject, Muddy Waters. Robert Gordon did a first-rate job of interviewing those who did, including: as many members of Muddy's bands as were still alive; Chris Barber, the UK trad trombonist who almost single-handed turned Europe onto the blues in the 50's and 60's; the entire staffs of Living Blues, Juke Blues, etc.; the authors of Blues With A Feeling, the forthcoming Little Walter story; Nadine Cohodas (whose equally authoritative book on Chess, Spinning Blues Into Gold, should be on your shelf next to this one) plus most other blues writers, family members, and photographers. Short of a seance with Muddy, Chess, House and Patton, etc. he missed no one.

It's all there. The Stovall Plantation beginnings including Muddy's whiskey business, etc. Gordon even found Library of Congress recordings not previously known! We get a peek at the country juke houses where "Chicago" blues were really born. (I recall Muddy saying that he played electrified guitar for years before leaving Mississippi.) He even mentions a 1940 trip to St. Louis, even before Muddy cut the L of C sides, --- certainly news to me. I think this author is the first to mention that Muddy laid off of the guitar for a few years c.'58-'60. (Muddy knew his singing was his most important asset.) I well remember how gratified Paul Oliver and Chris Barber were when he picked up the guitar again when they came visiting.

OK, it's a great book and I hesitate to mention a few very minor glitches. Since I much admire Lester Melrose's A&Rsmanship, I have always been bugged by writers (starting, I am afraid, with Sam Charters) who relegate to damnation fifteen years of blues history as Bluebird Blues -- partly because they ignore the Vocallion-Okeh-Columbia blues produced by the same Melrose. Melrose never appreciated electric blues and relied on Broonzy, Ransom Knowling, various pianists (an honor roll: Joshua Altheimer, Blind John Davis, Memphis Slim, Eddie Boyd, Big Maceo, etc. who, for some reason are P.C.) and drummers to populate his sessions. Frankly, having done sessions with Ransom, I don't much blame him -- I have heard how disorganized some of the early electric bands could be. When Muddy would go on the bandstands, sidemen's hands would dart to the volume knobs. After vocalizing, Muddy's next great talent was balancing his bands.

It's a shame that none of the early Chicago blues bands got recorded as they sounded in the clubs (such as Sylvio's, where Broonzy played in the early 40's long before Muddy, Wolf and Elmore resided there). Gordon does pay heed to the 30's greats and doesn't really claim that Muddy single-handedly invented the new Chicago sound, but there is a hint of the Bluebird Blues heresy. Perhaps I mention this because it is one of my pet subjects.

Other than that, I find only really insignificant errors of fact -- or maybe I'm just wrong. Unfortunately Jimmy Rogers never recorded for Delmark, tho we came close on a couple of occasions when I didn't have the bread. Alice's Revisited (which eventually brought in Miles Davis, Woody Herman, etc.) wasn't really small, probably c.5,000 sq.ft. I think someone probably referred to the 1500-2000 sq.ft. original Alice's, a folk house next to the Biograph Theater. Did I seed Living Blues? I don't recall doing so but I did give `em space for their typesetting machine in Delmark's basement. Phonogram or Polydor, not Phonolog (a company that cataloged records for U.S. stores) had the Chess license for the UK -- and did a better job of it then than they now do as Universal.

The Blackstone Rangers appear on p.353 as an organization for constructive social change. It was a street gang that controlled the drug business and killed people. Also the first West Side riot certainly reflected dissatisfaction but was directly caused when a typically lily-white fire crew jumped a curb and killed a young black girl. (The second, and worse, burning happened when Martin Luther King was assassinated.)

It was Columbia, not Paramount (which died in `34) that resurrected Okeh in ´51... It took more than 500 copies of a single to break even for, say, half a record date. (The sale of 500 would, however, pay for the mastering and metal parts and pressings but not the labels or royalties.) ... The Modern Jazz Quartet played Chicago but resided in the New York area (and wasn't it great to find that pianist John Lewis had told Chris Barber to bring Muddy to the UK - more news to me.)

Well, that's mainly a few typos I think.

Oh yes, the photos. You've seen a few of them that really have to be there but there are some that you haven't and they're well-selected. One could wish for more but there are limits and I'd certainly never swap the text for more pictures.

If you have the least interest in Chicago blues you have to have this wonderful tome.

- Bob Koester

 


All reviewed items are available from the Jazz Record Mart, 1-800-684-3480.