In 1970, Chicago blues enthusiasts Jim and Amy O'Neal (the latter now van Singel), along with Bruce Iglauer, decided to start a magazine devoted to contemporary blues. Due to the sixties folk boom, there'd been a leap forward in blues scholarship and a lot of research was being done into locating old recordings and tracing histories of the music's early performers. The O'Neal's wanted to focus on those musicians who were currently active and tell their stories.
One of the regular features was in-depth interviews with noted bluesmen/women. The questions were usually knowledgeable and the results were often real insights into otherwise little known backgrounds and attitudes of living legends like Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Otis Rush and many others. The O'Neal's carried on for 13 years, before moving the magazine to the University of Mississippi, who took over the production.
This book collects 12 interviews from the 1970's and will be welcomed by people like myself who have frayed and yellowing copies of the mags in boxes in the basement. It begins with some old timers. Georgia Tom Dorsey was a piano player who teamed with Tampa Red to record a number of salacious numbers like "Tight Like That", but quit blues and went to gospel music where he wrote tunes like "Precious Lord" and "Peace In The Valley." Interestingly, what comes across strongly is his view that he made the switch mostly for financial reasons-the blues market was drying up, so he got religion. This is followed by a short one with Sleepy John Estes and his harp/jug blowing partner Hammie Nixon-which is more about their personalities than deep info.
Houston Stackhouse was one of the King Biscuit Boys down in West Helena, and his lonnnng section (45 pgs) is a history of the whole delta region blues scene and people like Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Robert Lockwood, Robert Nighthawk et al. T-Bone Walker was interviewed both for the mag and Amy's radio show, he revealed that the first electric guitarist he knew of was Les Paul, who he thought didn't get the credit he deserved.
The also long interview with Muddy Waters wasn't published until after his death, as a commemorative item, and is a compilation of 3 different sessions done over a six year span. It was considered part of an on-going unfinished project, so what's here focuses heavily on Muddy's early years and his pre-star days. John Lee Hooker was interviewed 1976-77. Asked what he really wanted to play (he was being touted as King Of The Boogie then) he replied, "Get back to the old-time thing. Wouldn't be no strain, no bouncin', no jumping up and down. Just sit there, just like I'm having a conversation." A pretty good recipe for any solo bluesman, huh? Eddie Boyd is best known as author of "Five Long Years." The pianist had a definite attitude about his own importance, and his interview shows that well.
The interview with Little Walter and guitarist Louis Myers is the ONLY long one Walter ever did, and is valuable for that alone, even considering that much of the talking is done by Myers. The session took place only a few months before Walter died after a street fight which exacerbated old head injuries. Walter was on hard times then, working mostly as a sideman to lesser players, and understandably a bit bitter. Jimmy Reed was another fallen star at the time of his interview. He has trouble recalling tunes, sidemen and facts in general (due to severe alcoholism and epileptic seizures), but he has a charming, rolling syntax, which says not much in a real interesting way . The book winds up with brief sessions with Freddie King, Esther Phillips and Little Milton.
All the interviews have updated reference info (record titles, names and data on other people mentioned) as well as postscript notes bringing the story up to date. In some cases the interviews have been expanded and reworked in fuller form-all of which makes for a valuable and interesting resource volume. There are however a couple of negative points; sloppy production work resulted in Howling Wolf being listed as included on the back cover blurb, (he's not), and the name of one of the co-authors of a forthcoming Little Walter biography somehow was printed wrong (an odd mistake considering both books come from the same publisher).
These minor points aside, this book will replace a number of shredded old clippings. and lets hope there are future volumes in the works. There's a lot of stuff still left in the Living Blues vaults-like the Wolf and Otis Rush pieces, to name just two.
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order this CD NOW!
This review is copyright © 2002 by Tony Glover, 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.