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The History Of The Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People

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Francis Davis's The History of the Blues is a groundbreaking rethinking of the blues that fearlessly examines how race relations have altered perceptions of the music. Tracing its origins from the Mississippi Delta to its amplification in Chicago right after World War II, Davis argues for an examination of the blues in its own right, not just as a precursor to jazz and roc Francis Davis's The History of the Blues is a groundbreaking rethinking of the blues that fearlessly examines how race relations have altered perceptions of the music. Tracing its origins from the Mississippi Delta to its amplification in Chicago right after World War II, Davis argues for an examination of the blues in its own right, not just as a precursor to jazz and rock 'n' roll. The lives of major figures such as Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Leadbelly, in addition to contemporary artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray, are examined and skillfully woven into a riveting, provocative narrative.


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Francis Davis's The History of the Blues is a groundbreaking rethinking of the blues that fearlessly examines how race relations have altered perceptions of the music. Tracing its origins from the Mississippi Delta to its amplification in Chicago right after World War II, Davis argues for an examination of the blues in its own right, not just as a precursor to jazz and roc Francis Davis's The History of the Blues is a groundbreaking rethinking of the blues that fearlessly examines how race relations have altered perceptions of the music. Tracing its origins from the Mississippi Delta to its amplification in Chicago right after World War II, Davis argues for an examination of the blues in its own right, not just as a precursor to jazz and rock 'n' roll. The lives of major figures such as Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Leadbelly, in addition to contemporary artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray, are examined and skillfully woven into a riveting, provocative narrative.

30 review for The History Of The Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People

  1. 4 out of 5

    East Bay J

    This is a great book! Francis Davis has put together a reference book on the blues that not only does an exquisite job at its intended purpose but is highly readable. I find any book on blues history pretty interesting but History Of The Blues is aces. Davis starts with a discussion of pre-recorded music styles and winds his way through the decades to the 1993 Chicago Blues Festival. Everything in between is flawlessly researched and executed in a page turning, story telling style. Davis adds val This is a great book! Francis Davis has put together a reference book on the blues that not only does an exquisite job at its intended purpose but is highly readable. I find any book on blues history pretty interesting but History Of The Blues is aces. Davis starts with a discussion of pre-recorded music styles and winds his way through the decades to the 1993 Chicago Blues Festival. Everything in between is flawlessly researched and executed in a page turning, story telling style. Davis adds valuable insight into the life and music of Robert Johnson without dedicating too much space to the man or waxing too star struck poetic. If fact, his coverage of many of the names and faces of the blues fleshes out, clarifies and expands on the writing of his predecessors. Davis takes a real no nonsense approach to his reporting that avoids hollow, wordy hyperbole or thinly guided plagiarism. His writing is new and refreshing and brings the reader a superior understanding of the subject matter. This volume is a companion piece to a PBS series, also called History Of The Blues. I haven’t seen this documentary but I would be interested to see if it holds up to the quality of this book. History Of The Blues is so well written that I would have no reservations about recommending it as the perfect introduction to the blues, even over similar works by Lomax, Wardlow, Oliver, Palmer or other heroes of blues writing. It is perfect for the serious scholar or casual acquaintance of this music we call blues.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tim O'Riordan

    I found it a bit dry. Not as interesting a read as the subject material should make it. However, the author does seem very knowledgeable about the subject and I learnt a lot about the history of the Blues and some of the main players along the way.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    Author Francis Davis is a man who know of what he speaks, or in this case, writes. He has been involved in the music scene for many years as an author, critic, and journalist and is particularly learned in the genres of jazz and blues. He takes on the convoluted history of the blues in this book which took an immense amount of research, since the early blues and its origins are vague and full of myth. He pretty much sorts out the myth from the reality, although he does get carried away sometimes Author Francis Davis is a man who know of what he speaks, or in this case, writes. He has been involved in the music scene for many years as an author, critic, and journalist and is particularly learned in the genres of jazz and blues. He takes on the convoluted history of the blues in this book which took an immense amount of research, since the early blues and its origins are vague and full of myth. He pretty much sorts out the myth from the reality, although he does get carried away sometimes with psychological musings about race. He covers the lives and styles of musicians that blues afficianados know (Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Howlin' Wolf, Bessie Smith etc.) but the beauty of this history is the music of basically unknown masters of the blues, both male and female. There are extant, rare recordings of these individuals and it is worth the readers time to find them on YouTube or other sites and hear the beginnings of the blues...it is powerful music. Muddy Waters had a great quote, "The blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll" and the reader can follow the natural progression through the year of blues to rock and roll. If you are not a fan of the blues, this book may not be for you but it is a wonderful reference for blues lovers and I would recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bubba

    eh.....it's an ok intro to the blues, but even some of the greats only get a few paragraphs. The author, who seems to know Jazz, Rock and Roll, C&W, Rap, Ragtime and R&B as well as Blues, spends much of his time discussing the economic, geographic and socio-cultural factors that shaped the Blues. That's interesting, as is his connecting the Blues to other genres, but it still boils down to a critic giving his impression of the "important" musicians. He gives an even-handed rundown--i.e. doesn't eh.....it's an ok intro to the blues, but even some of the greats only get a few paragraphs. The author, who seems to know Jazz, Rock and Roll, C&W, Rap, Ragtime and R&B as well as Blues, spends much of his time discussing the economic, geographic and socio-cultural factors that shaped the Blues. That's interesting, as is his connecting the Blues to other genres, but it still boils down to a critic giving his impression of the "important" musicians. He gives an even-handed rundown--i.e. doesn't slight the popular Bluesmen in favor of the obscure--but he committs a cradinal sin in my book: he says all Elmore James' songs are basically variations on Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom." Everytime I hear someone say this I think to myself, this writer is either deaf, stupid or a big fat liar. At least, as I recall, the author does it jokingly and throws James a little praise as well. I don't know how critics can say things like, 'the musicians of the 30s probably built songs out of components that were around from before the turn of the century,' and then fault Elmore James for using some of those same components while praising Robert Johnson as THE Bluesman. Robert Johnson came after Son House, Tommy Johnson and several other Delta Blues founders. He was the LAST of the great Delta Blues guys, not the first. I wouldn't trade ten of him for one Elmore James.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ian Halliburton

    It is very in depth. It goes all the way back to when the blues was a vaudeville act. It explores what the first blues song could have been. Then it talks about the people who made the blues what it is today. If you like the history of rock and roll then you will want to know where it comes from. i didn't know before this book that there were two Sonny Boy Williamson's. The second one just took the first guys name after the first one died so People would think that Sonny boy never died. I first It is very in depth. It goes all the way back to when the blues was a vaudeville act. It explores what the first blues song could have been. Then it talks about the people who made the blues what it is today. If you like the history of rock and roll then you will want to know where it comes from. i didn't know before this book that there were two Sonny Boy Williamson's. The second one just took the first guys name after the first one died so People would think that Sonny boy never died. I first got interested into the Blues by Eric Clapton and this book helped e to understand what I love so much.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    If you're looking for a comprehensive book on the history of the blues, you might find this to be a little too comprehensive. Davis covers all grounds, offering historical, biographical, geographical, even speculative information on what seems like every person who ever sang a blue note or plucked out a blues song on guitar. Overall, he gives a detailed timeline of blues history, along with insightful analysis of the themes and styles of various blues era's. But you might find yourself overwhelm If you're looking for a comprehensive book on the history of the blues, you might find this to be a little too comprehensive. Davis covers all grounds, offering historical, biographical, geographical, even speculative information on what seems like every person who ever sang a blue note or plucked out a blues song on guitar. Overall, he gives a detailed timeline of blues history, along with insightful analysis of the themes and styles of various blues era's. But you might find yourself overwhelmed by how much information you actually get.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Howison

    There's much in this one that is good and helpful, but Davis's distance from the originators of the tradition is a major Achilles' heel... Witness the following: “[T]here are people who grow up actually reading the Bible, especially in the Protestant South—people, both black and white, who accept what I read as lunatic ravings as both prophecy and literal history." Lunatic ravings? Wow... a wee bit lacking in nuance, wouldn't you say? Still, even from arm's length his ear can be good, and at least There's much in this one that is good and helpful, but Davis's distance from the originators of the tradition is a major Achilles' heel... Witness the following: “[T]here are people who grow up actually reading the Bible, especially in the Protestant South—people, both black and white, who accept what I read as lunatic ravings as both prophecy and literal history." Lunatic ravings? Wow... a wee bit lacking in nuance, wouldn't you say? Still, even from arm's length his ear can be good, and at least some of his observations spot on.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I thought this book was great! It is a wonderful book for people who love the blues and want to learn more about the genre. The book tells you a lot about the people who lived the blues, sang the blues, and played the blues. And Francis Davis made this book highly readable. And this book is very informational about the people who created the blues. And I recommend this book for people who love the blues and what to learn more about the genre and about the people who played it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard Staines

    I f you want to know about the blues, it's history, the characters, the names, then this is a great book. I liked it at least. Though for me by the time we get to BB King and beyond I'm not so interested. It's a nice collection of information, although you have to bear in mind a lot of history in this area is hard to substantiate. For any blues lover, this book or a book like it is a must read at some point. I f you want to know about the blues, it's history, the characters, the names, then this is a great book. I liked it at least. Though for me by the time we get to BB King and beyond I'm not so interested. It's a nice collection of information, although you have to bear in mind a lot of history in this area is hard to substantiate. For any blues lover, this book or a book like it is a must read at some point.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Allan

    Should perhaps be entitled, "Francis Davis' Opinions on the History of the Blues". Of course, everyone is entitled to write his own book, but I don't usually want to know so much about an author who's not part of the story, even if he has something interesting to add to it--which is not necessarily the case here. Should perhaps be entitled, "Francis Davis' Opinions on the History of the Blues". Of course, everyone is entitled to write his own book, but I don't usually want to know so much about an author who's not part of the story, even if he has something interesting to add to it--which is not necessarily the case here.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    A fascinating survey of the history of the blues with historical, social and cultural perspectives. This inspired me to create a Delta Blues Chronological History playlist on Spotify, from Mamie Smith to B.B. King.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    Totally fascinating, and pretty thorough. Certainly a subject as broad as "the blues" can never be completely covered, but Davis does an admirable job. I especially liked the profiles about the musicians. Totally fascinating, and pretty thorough. Certainly a subject as broad as "the blues" can never be completely covered, but Davis does an admirable job. I especially liked the profiles about the musicians.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Kirby

    A well written and insightful A-Z history of the blues. Very interesting with a lot of the backstories that we don`t hear about especially Robert Johnson's famous deal with the devil. Blues aficianados will love this book. A well written and insightful A-Z history of the blues. Very interesting with a lot of the backstories that we don`t hear about especially Robert Johnson's famous deal with the devil. Blues aficianados will love this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sagar Jethani

    I would have preferred a straight history, but the author gets too caught up in his project, excessively inserting himself into the narrative.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Phebe

    interesting

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erich Wendt

    This is a wonderful entry point to the history of the blues and provides a great playlist of essential recordings to begin your exploration of the music. Reads like lightning, to boot!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeri

    Got a bit tiresome with the name-listing, but entertaining voice and I learned a lot. Now onto the Scorsese documentary series.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris Meloche

    I always recommend this book to people if they mention wanting to learn about the blues. A great book as an introduction or even if you are already steeped in the music.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dan Downing

    A Five Star effort. The proof begins with it giving me a dose of the blues and continues into the time I spent gleaning one recording or another off my shelves or popping one out of YouTube. Good times. One valuable asset is the Appendix which consists of a three column timeline, placing milestones in blues history against other musical genres milestones. The third column sketches in the rest of the world. We find that in 1911 Hart Ward published (sheet music) "Dallas Blues", James Reese Europe a A Five Star effort. The proof begins with it giving me a dose of the blues and continues into the time I spent gleaning one recording or another off my shelves or popping one out of YouTube. Good times. One valuable asset is the Appendix which consists of a three column timeline, placing milestones in blues history against other musical genres milestones. The third column sketches in the rest of the world. We find that in 1911 Hart Ward published (sheet music) "Dallas Blues", James Reese Europe appeared at Carnegie Hall, and the Titanic sank. Before the end of the book, we have the history, a refreshing one at that. Much of the crud attendant to histories of the blues and jazz of days gone by were too painfully academic or race guilty. Of course, one must keep in mind that this history was published in 1995, which seems to me at first to be fairly new, but it means a quarter century has passed since the words were written and today. That means the author and I went from active 49-year-olds to an at least a bit creaky 72. This is difficult to comprehend, at least for me. It also means that 'the music scene' has been transformed a few times, even within the blues. (Yeah, 24 years, but a book is written before it is published, you see?) Between the timeline and the text are a bibliography and a discography. Both depress me: I'll never read even 15% of the books, and the discography makes my collection look sadly anemic. Ah well. But forget all that. Get this book, put on a few blues tunes to listen to, and learn a bit about the men and women who gave us so much of themselves as they wrought the sound that goes around this book. Recommended.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joe Morgan

    Tightly written, almost too, including a lame mic-drop at then end (a lament about Thanksgiving? Really?) Also uses the "n" word to sound authentic, over and over again. Didnt like S.R. Vaughn and didnt seem to recognize Jeff Beck's blues despite pages of narrative on unknowns from the 1990s. Some good history here and there. Tightly written, almost too, including a lame mic-drop at then end (a lament about Thanksgiving? Really?) Also uses the "n" word to sound authentic, over and over again. Didnt like S.R. Vaughn and didnt seem to recognize Jeff Beck's blues despite pages of narrative on unknowns from the 1990s. Some good history here and there.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jbondandrews

    A somewhat interesting book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robert Geyer

    It’s a bit outdated. I would’ve liked to see newer blues musicians such as John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr etc. The rest was great

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dan Shonka

    Francis Davis has written an excellent book that covers the origins, motivations, and evolution of the blues. He mentions and describes all manners of characters, from the big names to some who played a lesser role. Because of the great scope, he doesn't always go into a lot of detail, but there's more than enough information to give the reader a solid foundation in the history of the blues. Mr. Davis also struggles (as do most blues fans) with two tough questions. . . what ARE the blues, and wh Francis Davis has written an excellent book that covers the origins, motivations, and evolution of the blues. He mentions and describes all manners of characters, from the big names to some who played a lesser role. Because of the great scope, he doesn't always go into a lot of detail, but there's more than enough information to give the reader a solid foundation in the history of the blues. Mr. Davis also struggles (as do most blues fans) with two tough questions. . . what ARE the blues, and what is the future of the blues? He gives some possible answers, and his own opinions on these conundrums. His selected discography is one of the best parts of this very fine book. Even though this book is over 20 years old, it is still a very valuable resource for any true-blue blues fan.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason Quackenbush

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ash Sinclair

  26. 4 out of 5

    C.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Wenzel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chet Williamson

  29. 4 out of 5

    John S.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anna Varney

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