Ramblin' on My Mind
New Perspectives on the Blues
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Illinois Press
The years since the late 1950s have seen a dramatic growth in scholarly and popular literature about blues music. Blues was certainly mentioned in print before this time, but previous writers had almost universally viewed it as either simply a type of folk music, more or less anonymous and unchanging, or a “root” form of jazz...
1. Bourdon, Blue Notes, and Pentatonism in the Blues: An Africanist Perspective
On the afternoon of August 1, 1997, David Evans, Moya Aliya Malamusi, and I set out to visit the blues singer and guitarist Robert “Wolfman” Belfour at his home in Memphis (Fig. 1.1). Moya, who had intensively studied the music and lyrics of blues-like bangwe...
2. "They Cert'ly Sound Good to Me": Sheet Music, Southern Vaudeville, and the Commercial Ascendancy of the Blues
The era of popular blues music was not suddenly set into motion by Mamie Smith’s 1920 recording of “Crazy Blues.” By the time Mamie Smith was allowed to walk into a commercial recording studio, the blues was an American entertainment institution with an abounding legendary and a firmly established father fi gure, W. C. Handy...
3. Abbe Niles, Blues Advocate
One day in the spring of 1925 a young Wall Street attorney walked into the Times Square office of Handy Brothers Music Company. He had an appointment to interview W. C. Handy, the fifty-one-year-old songwriter who had penned a string of blues hits between 1912 and 1922. The lawyer’s name was Abbe Niles, and he...
4. The Hands of Blues Guitaritsts
In this paper I contend that there was regional clustering to the ways that African American folk and blues guitar players from the early part of the twentieth century held their picking hands and that these postures facilitated certain musical patterns while inhibiting others. The player’s picking hand posture therefore...
5. From Bumble Bee Slim to Black Boy Shine: Nicknames of Blues Singers
During his fieldwork in the Mississippi Delta in 1967, folklorist William Ferris was impressed by the importance of nicknames of blues singers in their communities. He wrote, “Nicknames such as ‘Pine Top,’ ‘Cairo,’ and ‘Poppa Jazz’ are more important than surnames and often when I inquired after actual names no one...
6. Preachin' the Blues: A Textual Linguistic Analysis of Son House's "Dry Spell Blues"
As an introduction to Son House’s musical activity, I summarize here what we have come to know about him. Despite some questionable evidence of a much earlier date of birth,1 it is generally agreed that Eddie James “Son” House Jr., was born...
7. Some Ramblings on Robert Johnson's Mind: Critical Analysis and Aesthetic Value in Delta Blues
The issue of aesthetic value implicitly informs most studies of the blues, as it does most studies of other musics. Fundamental decisions about which pieces are worthy of study and about the nature of their importance depend on judgments about the manner in which they are better or worse than others. Such value judgment...
8. "Guess These People Wonder What I'm Singing": Quotation and Reference in Ella Fitzgerald's "St. Louis Blues"
Ella Fitzgerald (1917–96), the celebrated jazz singer, was not known as a singer of the blues.1 In fact, her blues have generally been dismissed by jazz writers on grounds they lack such attributes as “primitive guts,” “raw ring,” “primal” emotion, and “gruff hoarse passion.”2 As historian Albert Murray reminds us, blues...
9. Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: A Decade of Disillusion in Black Blues and Gospel Song
The commercial issuing of African American blues and gospel recordings effectively began in 1920 (a very few religious recordings were made before that date).1 Although the gospel songs mostly stressed the devotional element in their lyrics,...
10. Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African American Urban Popular Style
“Play ‘Jole Blon’!” It’s Saturday afternoon at Pe-Te’s Cajun Bar-B-Que House, a tavern and dance hall in the South Houston suburb of Pasadena. Under the aegis of Cajun entrepreneur, music promoter, and disc jockey Les “Pe-Te” Johnson, L. C. Donatto and the Slippers (Fig. 10.1), one of the Bayou City’s premier zydeco bands, are holding...