Sunday, April 22, 2012

Delta Blues - Ted Gioia

The full title of this book is Delta Blues - The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. This mouthful is a fairly accurate description of the writing.

Gioia is a trained jazz musician and initially examined blues music with a clinical analysis - dissecting the time signatures, chord structures, turnarounds and thinking that he therefore understood the music. As he gained wisdom with age he realized the folly of this kind of thinking and comprehended that blues is all about the feeling and not something that can be discovered from learned examination.

Here he gives an overview of the most famous sons of the Delta - and most of them are men, although I am sure that there were some women working in these parts, as well. Of course, nothing is too detailed, as it is only a 400 page book, but he talks of the origins of the music, the early proponents and the singers who became true stars, such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. He looks into the men who rediscovered some of the old masters (Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, etc) during the 50's & 60's blues revivals, which I never knew much about or how they went about finding them. And, as a scholarly player, some of his descriptions, while they may be a bit dry at times (though he throws in an occasional poetic phrase when the mood strikes him), can be revealing and enlightening to another musician.

I was somewhat amused by his apparent personal revelation that many talented musicians were never discovered or recorded, or recorded far too little - some who may well have surpassed even the legends like Robert Johnson or Charlie Patton. By being part of small musical scenes in several cities, I am all too well aware that some of the most creative people in the world are the ones who are passed up for being too talented, too original, or just too damn good. To this day I think it is amazing when genius is actually recognized!

As I say, there is only so much that can be said about any of the giants in this book in the limited space allotted and most everyone here deserves (and many have) books dedicated to them, but this is a good outline with a different and fascinating perspective.