"Chasin' That Devil Music"
Author: Gayle Dean Wardlow
(Miller Freeman Books - $19.95 © 1998)
by Craig Ruskey
Okay, so you've picked out a number of CD's from the 'Stocking Stuffer' list and you still need more ideas to complete that Christmas shopping list. Books about blues are sure to satisfy time and time again, and "Chasin' That Devil Music," by blues scholar and researcher, Gayle Dean Wardlow, is a hands down winner. Wardlow's rap sheet as a 'blues detective' is impressive since he's the man responsible for locating Robert Johnson's death certificate. That feat is enough to carry Wardlow's name forward into future generations, but he is also responsible for locating and interviewing a great number of early Delta Blues figures. He boasts a record collection second to none when discussing rare Country Blues 78's by names like Son House, Ishmon Bracey, Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, and others. Now Mr. Wardlow can add an author's tag to his growing list of achievements. "Chasin' That Devil Music" captures the essence of the Mississippi Delta and the individual artists who created this soul-stirring music. When one's passion in life is blues, that person can talk at great length without ever becoming bored or repetitive, and Wardlow's stories of unearthing some of the rarest records in the world are enough to keep you glued to these pages for days, while there are lengthy sections on Charley Patton, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Bukka White, Elmore James, and many other revered names. Compiled from older articles that appeared in various publications, and indeed, new information, Gayle Dean Wardlow has successfully crossed the bridge from blues journalist to blues author. At 270 pages, his book reads like a comfortable conversation with an old and dear friend and contains a companion CD with tracks from his personal collection. Check your favorite online blues retailer for "Chasin' That Devil Music." Completely enjoyable.
"The Big Book Of Blues"
Author: Robert Santelli
(Penguin Books - $20.00 © 1993 - Revised 2001)
by Craig Ruskey
Research guides for blues enthusiasts are always welcomed additions to shelves seemingly stuffed with an endless array of books, magazines, and other related items. "The Big Book Of Blues" is Robert Santelli's hand-crafted guide to a plethora of blues stars, past and present. Alphabetically listed, it runs the gamut from Buddy Ace to ZZ Top, with stops in between adding another 650 or so individual performers and bands. Short biographical sketches accompany each entry, and in addition, the essential recordings are chosen by the author. Picking those essential listening articles is subjective from one to another, but Santelli does a fine job of listing stronger recordings while leaving less-favorable items where they belong. At 545 pages, "The Big Book Of Blues" is informative yet easy to spin through, offering plenty of details on varying styles, singers, guitarists, harpmen, piano wranglers, and more. As a reference tool for deciding what CD's to hunt down, it certainly will be useful to those just beginning their journey into the vast world of blues. Check www.bn.com for more info. Effective.
"AMG - All Music Guide To The Blues"
(Miller Freeman Books - $22.95 © 1999)
by Craig Ruskey
In the never-ending search for that perfect Christmas present, this one item will forever render you a favorite of the receiver. Hey, everyone will get enough ties, socks, goofy shirts, and fruitcakes to last more than a year, but when are you ever going to find something else so useful for that particular blues fanatic on your shopping list? This is essential as both a research tool and a subjective guide to the best recordings ever laid down by blues artists. At a whopping 650+ pages, it lists more than 950 entries of performers and bands, and features a rating system that gives an overview of more than 6,100 recordings. Laid out in alphabetical order, it's relatively easy to find your way to your favorite blues practitioners; some inclusions are questionable, plus a few glaring omissions, but overall, this is the most useful guide available when looking at blues. The list of contributors includes the names of Jim O'Neal, Cub Koda, Ron Wynn, Bill Dahl, and many others, while sorted through and edited by an impressive team that also included Koda. Lengthy sections on the artists part with plenty of necessary information, such as birthplaces and dates, and basics on individual styles. The number of recorded projects looked at is staggering, but it's easily sorted out through a system of stars that highlight superb recordings and places to begin building your collection. Informatively written, with Cub Koda's keen sense of humor, Bill Dahl's extensive knowledge of the subjects, and many other potent journalists, it's packed while falling just short of exhaustive. Simply put, it offers more bang for the buck than any other blues guide available. Check www.amg.com for ordering details. Highly recommended.
"Been Here And Gone" -- 'A Memoir of the Blues'
Author: David Dalton
(William Morrow - $25.00 © 2000)
by Craig Ruskey
David Dalton's "Been Here And Gone" traces the life and times of Coley Williams, the writer's character who boasted knowing them all, and indeed, had played with many. Williams is a cantankerous 100 year old in this fictional work, which in itself, is reason enough to add this to your Christmas list. Few authors have been able to successfully intertwine blues with solid, imaginative work, but Dalton joins a small list which bears names like Peter Guralnick and Ace Atkins, among a small handful others. If readers here are familiar with the history of blues, as offered by exceptional authors which include Mike Rowe, Jim O'Neal, Sam Charters, and others, many parts of this book will read as a true-to-life-account. David Dalton has inserted his main character, Williams, into honest occurrences and far-fetched, careening tales alike. In his recollections throughout the book, Coley Williams reminisces about his trip to the crossroads with Tommy Johnson, tells of running up on Robert Johnson in a graveyard, and imparts in great detail, an incredibly humorous road trip to Memphis with Arthur Crudup, on a suggestion by Tampa Red, who relates a bizarre dream. Penned with a comic wit, an extensive knowledge of blues, and its participants, Dalton has masterfully succeeded in combining the great blues heritage with a fictional character who is downright believable in "Been Here And Gone." Check www.amazon.com or any favorite internet bookseller. Thoroughly captivating.
"Rollin' And Tumblin'"
Author: Jas Obrecht
(Miller Freeman Books - $19.95 © 2001)
by Craig Ruskey
Jas Obrecht's name should be familiar to many from his years with Guitar Player magazine, as both a writer, and later, editor of that publication, and Mojo. His well-rounded knowledge of blues, deep love and respect for the artists and their music, and creative style, have kept Obrecht busy for many years with a number of other projects. Adding to his already extensive credit list is this fine work on postwar blues guitar. At over 400 pages, with articles by the author and an impressive consortium of contributors, there are interviews and features on a wide-ranging cast, including Magic Sam, T-Bone Walker, Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, and many more. While not a complete look at postwar blues guitar, or the many who figured in its early growth, this is an exceptional look at some of the major and minor characters who played pivotal roles. Dan Forte, Tom Pomposello, Jeff Hannusch, and others, insert finely crafted stories to a wonderful spin through Chicago, Texas, Detroit, and other important cities in the development of what is now modern blues guitar. Check www.barnesandnoble.com or any other favorite book outlet. Historically necessary.
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These reviews are copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.