The Length of a 78

Recently, one of the list correspondents commented:
“I’ve gotten the impression from reading about early Delta blues and country blues that the white A & R men who lugged “portable” recording devices into the South starting around 1926 and on into Robert Johnson’s time were looking for two things. 1) marketable vocal & instrumental skills, and, perhaps more important 2) original lyrics…It seems to me that these two skills reached a flowering in the person of Robert Johnson.

No other blues performers I’ve heard from the ’20s & ’30s come close to Johnson’s lyric breadth and depth.”

While Johnson’s work represents a kind of genius at once communal and individual, drawing as it did from the rich work of earlier performers and his contemporaries; I believe there is another reason that Johnson’s work really stands apart from the recordings of earlier performers: Johnson understood just how long a 78 r.p.m. side was. Continue Reading

Redemption: Reconstructing the South

Examining the historical context of the Blues is tricky for anyone, though perhaps doubly so for Whites. The music was built, freely played and enjoyed by people of color whose lives, livelihoods–and, sometimes, deaths–were shaped by forces on the loose in the American landscape that are unexamined and unfamiliar to many listeners. I do not believe this is out of callousness generally, but is more due to the fact that this dark history is glossed over or entirely absent in our schools. Continue Reading

America’s Original Sin

Here’s BluesNotes for April, 2004 – I hope this finds you well, curious, and happy. This issue of BluesNotes presents excerpts of an article on three books in the NY Review of Books (March 25, 2004) by George M. Fredrickson entitled, America’s Original Sin.

In his article, Fredrickson notes that each of these books offer its own perspective on “the enslavement and brutal exploitation of millions of people of African descent over a period of almost 250 years,” and goes on:

“From whatever angle it is examined … slavery left deep scars that have not yet healed. Its legacy persists to this day in the failure to extend full equality to African-Americans. Slavery and its consequences, these books tell us, were not incidental or secondary aspects of American history but constitute its central theme. Rather than being an exception to the grander themes of liberty and democracy, slavery and the racism it engendered have exposed the shallowness and narrowness of the national commitment to these ideals.”

Continue Reading

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