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Chapter 5 Blues and the Abstract Truth From Blues to Jazz Blues is essential to every kind of music I’ve written about so far. Blues is obviously the root of rhythm and blues but also in rock ’n’ roll, jazz, Broadway show tunes, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, TV commercials ,and so on and so on.Blues was crucial to my own teenage engagement in rock’n’roll,and I continued to learn more about blues as I completed high school and started college in 1959—the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties, an era that became associated with the blues revival. The personal and cultural context for my introduction to the blues was when I finished high school in Ontario in 1959,and we moved to Hammond, Indiana,for yet another refinery construction job in nearby East Chicago.It was here that I started to prepare for going away to college in the fall.Mama and Daddy encouraged me to look for a job to help pay tuition and room and board.I made a half-assed attempt but didn’t find anything.I remember having only one interview, for a job as a shoe salesman at a discount store. I did not get it as I must have looked exactly like what I was: inexperienced at anything, someone who had never had a job. Relieved, I spent the summer reading books from the library, playing tennis with my brother, David, and listening to Top 40 music on the radio. Several of the songs that appealed to me expressed how much I was missing Shirley, the girl I had a couple of dates with back in Oakville. I wallowed in my misery listening to “Since I Don’t Have You” by the Skyliners and “There Goes My Baby” by the Drifters, but I must have had some hope of meeting another girl as I fantasized to Dee Clark’s“Hey Little Girl in the High School Sweater,”“Gee I’d like to know you better.” My teenage years were filled with music that matched my volatile emotions—from sheer unbridled joy to abject loneliness. Blues and the Abstract Truth 89 That summer I was listening to long-playing records for the first time on my new record player, a gift from my parents when I finished the twelfth grade. The first LPs I bought were a mix of jazz (Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing ; Duke Ellington, Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown; Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out, Columbia, CS 8192, 1959) and rock ’n’ roll and R&B (Ray Charles, What’d I Say, Atlantic, 2031, 1959; Buddy Holly, That’ll Be the Day, Decca DL 8707, 1958; Chuck Berry, After School Session, Chess, LP 1426, 1957). I was buying records that reflected the blues roots of R&B and rock with some recognition of jazz history in the choice of Duke Ellington.The most recent albums I had bought at the time were Time Out,At the Pershing,and What’d I Say.All these records remain favorites that I still play today, both the original LPs and the CD versions. I took the records and the portable record player with me when I flew for the first time in my life from Midway Airport in Chicago to the Jefferson CountyAirport,just outside Beaumont, to begin my freshman year at Lamar State College of Technology. It was in southeast Texas that my lessons in blues really started to take off. It was inevitable that I would go back to my roots in Texas for college. As we moved all over the United States and Canada,Daddy maintained his legal residence in Texas so that David, Linda, and I could attend Lamar on in-state tuition, which was ninety dollars a semester in the fall of 1959. We all ended up getting our BA degrees there, and even though we all lived in the dorm, we felt as if we were home because the Lamar Tech campus was between the smelly refineries we had grown up with and our old neighborhood , South Park, where most of our extended family still lived. Back in Beaumont,I started listening to the same radio stations I had listened to in high school,rock’n’roll on KTRM in Beaumont and KPAC in PortArthur. At Lamar a guy in one of my classes introduced me to R&B music that was unlike any I had heard before. Billy Parrott drove a ’56 Chevy, the ultimate cool...


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