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|Read Epub ⚣ Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues ä The life of blues legend Robert Johnson becomes the centerpiece for this innovative look at what many consider to be America s deepest and most influential music genre Pivotal are the questions surrounding why Johnson was ignored by the core black audience of his time yet now celebrated as the greatest figure in blues historyTrying to separate myth from reality, biographer Elijah Wald studies the blues from the inside not only examining recordings but also the recollections of the musicians themselves, the African American press, as well as examining original research What emerges is a new appreciation for the blues and the movement of its artists from the shadows of the s Mississippi Delta to the mainstream venues frequented by today s loyal blues fans Outstanding revisionist history of the early blues Fascinatingly informative throughout Helps appreciate Robert Johnson, Skip James, Son House, and other icons no less but also see how Lonnie Johnson and others were muchpopular in their day and time, and how the white cult of the blues created the images of early blues and blues musicians. This was painful Like I need some hippy blues nerd to tell me that black people listen to all kinds of music and that white audiences bring their racist baggage to how they hear the music All his points are valid, but they are so belabored If you are after truth and authenticity then this dude is fighting the good fight in the culture wars If you just dig the blues, and you know it s phony, then this is going to hurt He should of just written a biography of Leroy Carr instead of gunni This was painful Like I need some hippy blues nerd to tell me that black people listen to all kinds of music and that white audiences bring their racist baggage to how they hear the music All his points are valid, but they are so belabored If you are after truth and authenticity then this dude is fighting the good fight in the culture wars If you just dig the blues, and you know it s phony, then this is going to hurt He should of just written a biography of Leroy Carr instead of gunning for all the claptonclones who ll buy this polemic because the unholy robert johnson is on the cover and in the subtitle Or maybe not I just don t care what most blues fans think of the blues, I don t feel the need to convert the hoards of beer bellied white boys from worshiping chicken choking guitar solos to dancing to barrelhouse piano I guess if Elijah Wald broadens a few horizons that would be a good thing, though Maybe the Chicago blues scene would unfreeze and start innovating again if the tiny bit of money it does make wasn t mostly coming from wannabe outlaw bikers who want to hear sweet home chicago a million times Part of the problem as the author keeps assuring us, he s just like us, he prefers the creepy outsider art obscure deep blues to the stuff that was popular at the time It s like he s trying to convince himself to stop thinking of his favorites as the most authentic and to recognize how his own whiteness has informed his taste in black music at the same time that he is trying to convince the reader There s a generational thing happening here too, cuz if you re post civil rights, like me, then you didn t get into blues when bob dylan went electric at newport, and yeah, okay, sure, I followed british white rockers down their rabbit holes, but Al Green singing Hank Williams didn t confuse my assumptions about race either I mean, are there really still people who think an illiterate ex con blues man isauthentic than say Dinah Washington Knowwhaddimean Pulling Yakub s white supremacy pins out of our devil brains is painful, and this book brings the pain, so if you can stand being lectured to, this is good The Blues And Romantic HistoryMany Americans have shown a great interest in roots music as part of a highly commendable effort to understand our country s life and culture Much of this interest has, over the years, focused on the blues of the Mississippi Delta and, in particular, on the recordings of singer and guitarist Robert Johnson 1911 1938 Johnson was an obscure figure in his day and his life and music remain the stuff of legend He had two recording dates in 1936 and 1937 His musi The Blues And Romantic HistoryMany Americans have shown a great interest in roots music as part of a highly commendable effort to understand our country s life and culture Much of this interest has, over the years, focused on the blues of the Mississippi Delta and, in particular, on the recordings of singer and guitarist Robert Johnson 1911 1938 Johnson was an obscure figure in his day and his life and music remain the stuff of legend He had two recording dates in 1936 and 1937 His music was rediscovered in the 1960s and since that time the sales of his collected recordings have numbered in the millions.In Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues 2004 , Elijah Wald offers a compelling study of the blues and of blues historiography focusing on Robert Johnson Wald tries to correct what he deems to be the prevailing myths about Johnson that he was a primitive folk artist caught in the Mississippi Delta who recorded and perfected a local traditional form of blues Wald finds Johnson an ambitious young singer who had studied the blues forms popular in his day Johnson, Wald argues, wanted to escape the Mississippi Delta and pattern himself on the urban blues singers, in particular Leroy Carr, emanating from the Midwest and Chicago.Wald finds that Johnson displayed a variety of blues styles in his recordings and that he was largely ignored by black music listeners of his day because Johnson s early efforts to capture an urban blues style were basically copies ofsuccessful singers and because his songs in the Delta blues style lacked appeal to the urban and sophisticated black audience of the time.Johnson s music only became well known, Wald argues, with the rise of English rock, and with his rediscovery by a largely white audience The tastes of black music listeners had moved in a mostly different direction towards soul, funk, rap, disco and did not encompass rural blues singers The fascination of modern listeners with Johnson, according to Wald, is due to a romantic spirit a boredom with the life of the everyday and a search for a past full of authentic individuals who knew their own wants and needs and who projected themselves in their art.Wald s book begins with a history of the blues before Robert Johnson focusing on the commercial character the music had at the outset He gives a great deal of attention to the Blues queens Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and to their smooth voiced male successors, particularly Leroy Carr, as mentioned above, and Lonnie Johnson These singers profoundly influenced Johnson s music and his ambitions to become a popular entertainer and not a cult figure.The central part of Wald s book consists of a brief biography of Johnson summarizing the various speculations on his life and of a song by song discussion of his recordings In this discussion, Wald discusses the music with a great deal of intelligence and understanding He shows very clearly Johnson s debts to hiscommercially successful predecessors and explains as well the variety of blues styles Johnson encompassed in his songs.The final portion of the book carries the story of the blues forward beyond Robert Johnson s death It shows how the music at first evolved into a combo style, again approaching popular music, which took blues into a different direction from Johnson s recordings The book concludes with a discussion of Johnson s rediscovery, and the discovery of other Delta blues singers, beginning in the 1960 s.Wald clearly knows his material For all his criticism of the mythmaking cult over Johnson, Wald s love for this music shines through, as he is the first to admit Upon reading this book, I spent considerable time rehearing Johnson s music and felt I came away with a better understanding and appreciation of it than I had before The goal of every book about music should be to encourage its readers to return to or get to know the songs, or what have you, themselves The book meets this goal admirably.There are few books on the blues that manage to be both scholarly, critical, and inspiring and Wald s book is one of these few I do not find Wald s thesis as unusual as he claims it to be, but it certainly will be worth exploring by listeners and readers who do not have a large background in this music.In music, a fair and careful historical account will in the long run perform a greater service to the music and the artists than will legends and stereotypes The Delta singers discussed in this book, Robert Johnson, Son House, Skip James, Charley Patton, were musicians of talent Understanding their story can only increase the listener s appreciation of the blues.Robin Friedman Washington City PaperArts he s challenging the way the nostalgic modern idea of the blues has been constructed by the liberal, sup Washington City PaperArts Entertainment Book ReviewHighway 61 RevisitedBy Glenn Dixon January 23, 2004The blues was invented by white people Although that s the incendiary thesis behind Elijah Wald s provocative new book, Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, it s unlikely to anger many African Americans Because Wald isn t talking about the music per se he s challenging the way the nostalgic modern idea of the blues has been constructed by the liberal, supposedly educated white audience that has constituted the music s main fan base for the last few decades Readers are likely to be pissed off in direct proportion to their having bought into the myth that the real blues is an authentic folk expression that taps into the hoodoo mystery of primitive black America, a devil haunted cri de coeur that rises like fog from the cotton fields of Mississippi Readers are likely to be pissed off in direct proportion to their being Greil Marcus.No, seriously Just about everybody who made Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings the unlikeliest of platinum selling smashes has another think coming Wald hangs his argument on Johnson not just because getting the bluesman s name in the subtitle and picture on the cover exponentially increases the audience for any book about the blues, but because the cherished myth of the blues has been hung on Johnson by several generations of white admirers If any one person currently symbolizes the genre, it is the tortured, solitary wanderer who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads at midnight, in the bargain gaining a genius unforetold, and died in 1938, poisoned by a jealous husband at the rock death magical age of 27.Wald starts out on his quest to dismantle the fuzzy minded exceptionalism that has grown up around Johnson by giving him back his historical context Even if baby boomer intellectuals don t take the crossroads legend literally, they have largely been suckered by the notion that the customary patterns of example and influence don t apply in Johnson s case, that though he was of the place and time that was the Mississippi Delta in the 30s, he somehow stood outside it The country bluesman is often pictured as a hunched and shadowy figure shouldering his guitar down a lonesome road on the outskirts of town Wald methodically fills in the missing landscape, taking care to contrast the actuality of the milieu that can be reassembled from historical fragments with the expectations of the cult that latched on to Robert Johnson King of the Delta Blues Singers, the compilation issued by Columbia Records in 1961.Wald fleshes out his account with a bevy of inconvenient facts Laugh In comic Pigmeat Markham performed in blackface as late as the 40s Lawrence Welk had a strong enough following among black listeners to reach the RB top ten in 1961 Mamie Smith s oft cited Crazy Blues is the first blues recording only if you discount earlier performances by white artists, who had better access to record labels The world is not a simple place, Wald writes, and we should expect Johnson s story to be no simpler than anyone else s.If Escaping the Delta is never less than thoroughly compelling, it s in part because Wald draws on decades of experience as both musician and writer, having toured on the folk and blues circuit, served as a world music critic for the Boston Globe, and authored a biography of folkie bluesman Josh White, as well as Narcocorrido, an excursion into the world of the Mexican drug ballad As persuasive as the lesson he imparts is, Wald never puts you in mind of the dusty academic, largely because he is his own best pupil Once a member of the Johnson cult, and still much enad of the raw down home sound, he had to update his own views as he was drawn ever deeper into the music.Wald reclaims early recorded country blues as commercially conditioned popular music, as opposed to the untainted folk expression it is sentimentally taken to be The success of Blind Lemon Jefferson s Paramount recordings in the mid 20s opened the floodgates Within months, the Race catalogs filled with a varied panoply of Southern street corner players, Wald observes.The author also rebalances the history of prewar blues, giving pre eminence back to the glitzy female shouters of the 20s Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, and their ilk not only packed urban theaters, they also were favorites in the countryside D uring the period when blues was at its peak of popularity, transcending all other black styles, Wald emphasizes, the female singerswere always the music s biggest stars The aesthetic represented by these women and their horn blowing backing bands is at odds with that of Son House, Skip James, and other down home singer guitarists, little known bluesmen whose few recordings sold poorly upon their initial release But in the 50s and 60s, the hip shakin mama decked out inbeads and spangles than a whole crew of Neil Diamond impersonators got crowded out of the record bins by compilations that drew from the collections of shellac fiends who b y emphasizing obscurity as a virtue unto itselfessentially turned the hierarchy of blues stardom upside down Therecords an artist had sold in 1928, the less he or she was valued in 1958 Or 1998, for that matter.Wald shades in the picture further by emphasizing the influence that record men had over which material was cut, released, and distributed, making plain the difference between what and how a country bluesman might play live and what was represented by his body of recorded work Although Johnson and others like him certainly brought some fully conceived, polished performances to their sessions, the three minute 78 also had a way of codifying as compositions rambling numbers that might originally have consisted of floating couplets that could be strung together willy nilly over any number of arrangements, which themselves might be selected from a stock of interchangeable 12 bar patterns livened up with grab bag licks.These licks weren t always handed down from teacher to student in the flesh via live performance and tutoring Many early bluesmen conducted part of their apprenticeship at the Victrola or by the radio, Wald argues And although AR men wanted original material, juke joint dancers wanted the hits It may come as a disappointment to some of their fans to learn that the down home exemplars could play the human jukebox as well as anyone they were, after all, the bar bands of their day and that their tastes weren t nearly as rigid as those of their admirers Wald notes Charley Pride is not the only African American who ever loved country and western music When Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James got together in the 1960s, they would sometimes trade yodels on Jimmie Rodgers s Waiting for a Train Just as in the 1920s, no one saw fit to record this duet, since it was not what the public expected of them So Hurt and James sang the hillbilly harmonies for their own pleasure, then went onstage and played the blues songs that their audience wanted to hear Having thus prepared his readers to hear Johnson anew, Wald loads up the CD changer and lets it rip For blues enthusiasts who aren t professional musicologists, particularly those unfamiliar with obscure Johnson predecessors and contemporaries such as Hambone Willie Newbern and Johnnie Temple, there may be fewilluminating,satisfying ways to spend a weekend than trekking through The Complete Recordings with Wald as their guide.Wald holds up to the light the 42 surviving Johnson sides one of which, the first take of Traveling Riverside Blues, appears on the 1998 reissue of King of the Delta Blues Singers but hadn t been discovered when The Complete Recordings came out in 1990 , pinpointing the influence not only of fellow Mississippi guitarists such as House and Charley Patton, but also that of the Tennessee born singer pianists Peetie Wheatstraw, based in East St Louis, and Leroy Carr, who had grown up in Indianapolis Selections by these artists can be found on the separately sold companion CD, Back to the Crossroads The Roots of Robert Johnson, not to be confused with a less comprehensive 1990 disc, also on Yazoo, titled simply The Roots of Robert Johnson Throughout, the author emphasizes that the notion of the blues as a music that holds guitar heroics above all else is strictly ahistorical, a fancy of post folk boom revivalists in Johnson s day, the blues was first and foremost a singer s m tier.Wald finds Johnson going for some hits at his earliest session, but once those prepared, up to date selections are exhausted, the musician starts dipping into the song bag, plundering his past Given the veto power of his label, ARC, Johnson was able to cut a surprising variety of material, from the quick tongued hokum of They re Red Hot, ostensibly a celebration of hot tamales, to the folky Last Fair Deal Gone Down, which Wald calls by far the most country piece he recorded Such songs do little to advance the familiar portrayal of Johnson as demon possessed Delta primitive, but they re part of his repertoire just the same.Because ARC didn t seem to care which approved takes were pressed, it often issued different performances under the same title and catalog number, making it possible to compare Johnson not only with other recording artists but with himself And so we find him altering performances to better conform to the running time, and we discover that seemingly offhand asides follow a script Those performances that went unissued reveal how standards have changed The plaintive first take of Come on in My Kitchen, idolized by everyone who approaches it from the self expressionist perspective of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, is seen not to pass muster with Johnson s producers, who required that a hot, upbeat second take be made.Despite Johnson s concessions to the tastes of his time, much of his work seems to have had little impact before being taken up by the revivalists of the British Invasion Wald even asserts that a s far as the evolution of black music goes, Robert Johnson was an extremely minor figure, and very little that happened in the decades following his death would have been affected if he had never played a note But having disabused Johnson s admirers of their dearly held beliefs, Wald offers something richer in their stead clear eyed, vibrant history rather than misty fairy tale In Wald s narrative, Johnson takes his place as a musician who displayed genius as an adapter and synthesizer, one whose recordings provided a better survey of 1930s trends than we can hear in the work of any other single player In an Afterthought titled So What About the Devil Wald goes after the Johnson cult s most sacred myth, the supposedly demonic origin of the man s talent, tracking parts of the legend to other performers, such as the unrelated Tommy Johnson whose preacher brother LeDell was quite the spinner of tales and Wheatstraw, n William Bunch, who billed himself as the Devil s Son in Law Wald also observes that the lyrics to purportedly witchy Johnson fare such as If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day and Me and the Devil Blues were likely to be perceived by their original audiences as jokes rather than the dire prophecies that rock raised fantasists made of them decades later.Although Escaping the Delta doesn t line up Johnson s mythologizers by name, it ought to make it impossible for its readers to ever again approach Marcus Mystery Train once dubbed probably the best book ever written about rock by Rolling Stone with a straight face And as for the messy slaverings of the late All Music Guide scribe and Smokin in the Boys Room auteur Cub Koda, who wrote that most historical naysayers have never made a convincing case as where the source of Johnson s apocalyptic visions emanates from, Wald has formulated the most well reasoned response yet It emanates from you CP