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1. Deep Blues
Robert Palmer
First published in U.S.A. by The Viking Press1981
Published by Penguin Press 1982
Comment: One of my favorites. There is a documentary by the same name (which I like) that Robert Palmer was also involved in making and helps narrate on-screen, but it doesn’t really parallel the book.

2. Mystery Train
Greil Marcus
E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc.

3. Urban Blues
Charles Keil
The University of Chicago Press
Comment: More scholarly tone to analysis of blues from around 1966 that sometimes sound pretentious, but has a lot of good information. It gets mentioned in a lot of bibliographies and other books on blues.

 

4. The Arrival of B.B. King
Charles Sawyer
Da Capo Press
Comment: Earlier biography of B.B. (copyright 1980) before the more recent one he participated in writing. More scholarly approach to analysis of B.B.’s music and guitar style. It has some interesting appendixes including one on Plantation Organization and Lynchings and a good discography of BB’s recordings up to the time the book was published.

5. Blues & the Poetic Spirit
Paul Garon
Da Capo Press
Comment: I have this but I don’t think I ever got all the way through it. More analytical regarding lyrics, themes of blues, etc. rather than tracing the history or performers.

6. Searching for Robert Johnson
Peter Guralnick
Published in U.S. by Obelisk Books, E.P. Dutton, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
Comment: Robert Johnson, Peter Guralnick - must be essential. I think someone made a video by the same name, which I think was narrated by John Hammond Jr., but I don’t believe I’ve seen it.
7. King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton
Stephen Calt and Gayle Wardlow
Rock Chapel Press
Comment: They stretched a little material a long way and the writing is not that great. One thing I do really like is the book analyzes in detail a number of songs by Charlie Patton, talking about the ones that were probably his original work and those that he probably learned or adapted from other delta blues singers.

8. The B.B. King Companion
Various Authors
Schirmer Books
Comment: This is a compilation of various articles, essays, etc. on B.B. including ones written by Colin Escot, Charles Sawyer, etc.

9. Stormy Monday: The T-Bone Walker Story
Helen Oakley Dance
Da Capo Press
Comment: The writing isn’t great and doesn’t really seem to present a chronological biography. However, it seems to have been written based on a series of interviews with T-Bone Walker and you get some good first person stories. The foreword is by B.B. King.

10. Write Me A Few Of Your Lines: A Blues Reader
Edited by Steven C. Tracy
University of Massachusetts Press
Comment: A blues reader is pretty descriptive of what it is. It has everything from articles on specific performers and origins of the blues, to the short story by James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”. It has excerpts or articles by some of the best know blues writers such as Paul Oliver, Samuel Charters, Alan Lomax etc. to more literary and academic people. I’ve only read various excerpts or am familiar from reading some of the underlying works by the authors included but this would probably be very good for a library.

11. Bluesland (Portraits of Twelve Major American Blues Masters)
Edited by Pete Welding and Toby Byron
A Dutton Book: Published by Penguin Press
Comment: Write-ups on Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters, Professor Longhair, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James and Chuck Berry. Each write-up by a different author. It has some pretty good black and white photos of the performers but is not primarily a picture book.

12. Portrait Of The Blues
Paul Trynka
Da Capo Press
Comment: Soft back book on slick paper with some good photos. It has sections on various types of blues or periods in the development of blues (e.g., Chess Masters, King Biscuit Time, White Boy Blues, etc. which are the names of various chapters.)

13. Conversation with the Blues
Paul Oliver
Cambridge University Press
Comment: The first edition of this book was published in 1965. Paul Oliver if you don’t know is pretty well known, I think from being one of the first authors who started writing seriously about blues (I think mainly country blues in the 1960s). From the dust jacket: “A unique document in blues history Conversations with the Blues slices across the many blues tradition which were still thriving in 1960. Compiled from interviews with blues singers made by Paul Oliver in that year, the book tells in the singers’ own words the significance of their music and the turbulent lives it reflects.” The second edition, published in 1997, which I have also has a companion CD which comes with the book.

14. Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made The Music
From the Pages of Guitar Player Magazine
Edited by Jas Obrecht
GPI Books: Miller Freeman Publication
Comment: Articles which appeared in Guitar Player magazine on various blues guitarists from the earlier country blues players up through the 60s and 70s electric blues players

15. Rhythm & the Blues
Jerry Wexler and David Ritz
St. Martin’s Press
Comment: This is a biography on Jerry Wexler, so it isn’t a per se blues book, but it has a lot of good stories from the Atlantic Records days and all the great jazz, blues and R&B artists they recorded like Ray Charles, Joe Turner, Aretha Franklin, etc.

16. Wheelin’ On Beale
Louis Cantor
Pharos Books
Comment: Haven’t read it but I have it. I thought I’d add it to the list if you’re looking for any Memphis history. The book is about, “How WDIA-Memphis Became the Nation’s First All-Black Radio Station and Created the Sound that Changed America”


17. The History Of The Blues
Francis Davis
Hyperion
Comment: A more recently written overview of the blues (copyright 1995). “The Roots, The Music, The People From Charley Patton To Robert Cray.”

18. Blue Rhythms: Six Lives in Rhythm and Blues
Chip Deffaa
Da Capo Press
Comment: Sections about Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Little Jimmy Scott, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon and Jimmy Witherspoon. I bought it for the write-up on Charles Brown who is one of my favorites for his “club blues”.

19. The Sound of the City (The Rise of Rock and Roll)
Charlie Gillett
Da Capo Press
Comment: Although as the name implies this is about rock and roll, it goes back to some of the origins in the 40s and 50s and talks about R&B and Soul. I haven’t read it, but this is one of those books (copyright in 1970) that always seems to get mentioned in bibliographies on blues and rock.

20. Stomping the Blues
Albert Murray
Da Capo
Comment: Murray approaches blues more from the perspective of it as a root of jazz. I haven’t read this one but I’ve read other things by him and he is a very well respected scholar as well as fiction writer. I think he was on a panel that was presented with the “Visualizing the Blues” exhibit. I like him but his non-fiction is pretty heavy reading and comes more from a scholarly and philosophical perspective.

21. Nothing But the Blues
Lawrence Cohn
Abbeville Press
Comment: Get this one for the library. Over-sized book with lots of good photos, and very comprehensive. Although credited to Cohn as the author, it appears to have contributions from many other well respected blues writers. I haven’t read it all, but it seems like a good one to me. Foreword by B.B. King.


22. Rhythm Oil
Stanley Booth
Pantheon Books
Comment: This is another one of my favorites, but not strictly a blues book. It does have chapters on Beale Street, Furry Lewis and attending the funeral of Mississippi John Hurt, but it also gets into ZZ Top, Al Green, Keith Richards, etc.

23. The Land Where The Blues Began
Alan Lomax
A Delta Book, Published by Dell Publishing
Comment: This is a really good book on the Delta. Alan Lomax tells about his experience traveling around the Delta to do recording. There are lots of stories and background about the work, social, racial situations, so the book is not only about recording blues singers.

24. Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians
Peter Guralnick
Harper & Row
Comment: About 25 pages of this approximately 350 page book are about blues performers (pieces on Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Spann, Big Joe Turner and Juke Joint Blues). The rest of the book is about country and rockabilly performers and music.

25. Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock n’ Roll
Peter Guralnick
Harper & Row
Comment: Mostly about blues and blues performers including portraits of Skip James, Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Robert Pete Williams, Howlin’ Wolf and Chess Records. It also has Sam Phillips, Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich chapters.

26. The Roots of the Blues: An African Search
Samuel Charters
Da Capo
Comment: This book traces the connections of the blues back to Africa.

27. The Blues Route
Hugh Merrill
William Morrow and Company Inc.
Comment: This author traces the routes that blues musicians from the South to the rest of the country and I think has first person narratives of the places the author visited like Dockery Plantation and the blues bars in Chicago.


28. Father Of The Blues
W.C. Handy
Da Capo
Comment: Autobiography of Handy.


29. Blues and the Poetic Spirit
Paul Garon
City Lights
Comment: “...this is a unique inquiry into the blues and the mind, a study of the blues as thought. Here the subconscious power of the blues is examined from a poetic and psychological perspective, illuminating the blues’ deepest creative sources and exploring its far-reaching influence and appeal.” That is what it’s about according to the back cover of the book. I haven’t gotten through this one.

30. Screening The Blues: Aspects of The Blues Tradition
Paul Oliver
Da Capo

31. Alberta Hunter: A Celebration In Blues
Frank C. Taylor with Gerald Cook
McGraw-Hill Paperbacks
Comment: A biography of Alberta Hunter who was originally from Memphis.

32. I’d Rather be the Devil: Skip James + the Blues
Stephen Calt
Da Capo

33. The Story of The Blues
Paul Oliver
Northeastern University

34. The Devil’s Music: A History Of The Blues
Giles Oakley
Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich
Comment: It’s been a long time since I read this but I think it’s a good overview and it mentions George Larrimore in the credits of course.

35. Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues
Donald E. Wilcock with Buddy Guy
Woodford Press
Comment: About 150 pages on Buddy Guy


36. Muddy Waters: The Mojo Man
Sandra B. Tooze
ECW Press

37. The Story of Chess Records
John Collis
Bloomsbury
Comment: About 190 pages with some good pictures.

38. The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing
David Honeyboy Edwards
Chicago Review Press
Comment: Lots of good stories from Honeyboy Edwards’ days on the road. He really lived the blues life.

39. Spinning Blues Into Gold
Nadine Cohodas
St. Martin’s Press
Comment: “The Chess Brothers And The Legendary Chess Records.” I haven’t read this one yet, but it is a much more lengthy look at Chess Records than #37 above.

40. Looking Up At Down
William Barlow
Temple University Press
Comment: Got it but haven’t read it. “The Emergence of Blues Culture” is what the cover says, but it looks to be more of a historical overview with lots of lyrics quoted rather than the social philosophical approach that the quoted description would imply.

41. Beale Black & Blue: Life and Music on Black America’s Main Street
Margaret McKee and Fred Chisenhall
Louisiana State University Press
Comment: More Memphis history that I have purchased but not read yet.

42. Blues And Evil
Jon Michael Spencer
The University of Tennessee Press
Comment: The book is divided into three sections: The Mythologies of the Blues; The Theologies of the Blues; and The Theodicies of the Blues. Then it goes on to 35 pages of conclusion. Pretty heavy reading if all you want to do is listen to some downhome blues.

43. Blues Who’s Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers
Sheldon Harris
Da Capo
Comment: This was first published in 1981 and the seventh edition I have was published in 1994. It’s really a catalogue size and style book of everyone you can think of at least up through 1981. I don’t think its been updated much with subsequent editions, because I didn’t even find Robert Cray listed.

44. Black and White Blues
Photographer Mark Norberg
Graphis Publications
Comment: Oversized book with black and white photos of blues players and singers with brief one page write-ups about them.

45. The Blues: roots and inspiration
John Collis
Salamander Books Limited
Comment: Oversized book with nice photos and chapters on various types of blues or profiles on artists.

46. Blues: a photographic documentary
David Harrison
Crescent Books
Comment: Oversized book. About a 30 pages intro and then about 100 pages of nice black and white photos by various photographers with some small write-ups on some.

47. Meeting The Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound
Alan Govenar
Da Capo Press
Comment: The title pretty much describes it and it has a lot of pictures also. Oversized book.

48. Blues Keeping The Faith
Keith Shadwick
Chartwell Books, Inc.
Comment: 1998 British published book. It’s oversized with short write-up and good pictures on lots of old time and newer blues artists.


49. The World of Blues
David Harrison
Chartwell Books, Inc.
Comment: Write-ups of various periods (e.g., The Beginnings, Into the Cities, Into the 90s). Oversized books, lot of pictures like the other Harrison book at #46 but more emphasis on the text that the photo documentary.

50. State of the Blues
Photographs by Jeff Dunas
Aperture
Comment: You’ve got this one.

51. Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King
B.B. King with David Ritz
Avon Books
Comment: Pretty good since B.B. is writing about himself, but not very comprehensive of his career.

52. Mississippi The Blues Today!
Robert Nicholson
Blandford
Comment: I just got this one off a remainder table at an LA bookstore on Sunset. It has write-up on some more current Mississippi area blues player like Robert Belfour, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Big Jack Johnson, Little Jimmy King, Junior Kimborough, etc.

http://www.blues.org/
 

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