With all the available reading there is on the subject of blues, a fictional account of the music and times, viewed through the eyes and voice of a one-hundred year old, may not be something you'd consider when trying to dig deeper into its history. Blues fiction is not all that popular a category, although Peter Guralnick, Walter Mosley, Ace Atkins, and perhaps a few others have been successful with the combination. Guralnick's incredible tale, "Nighthawk Blues," centered around an aging bluesman and his cronies as they made their way through the blues revival years ago, and his characters were based on those many may be familiar with. What David Dalton has done with Coley Williams in "Been Here And Gone," is surround the 100 year old with the 'real deal' bluesman, time and time again, throughout this fine work.
Long known for their abilities to weave tales, bluesmen, the ilk of Son House, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and others, have been in some of the most fascinating situations. Coley Williams comes alive and shares his stories, both true accounts and loosely based renderings, of his 100 years. In those years, as both a scam artist and bluesman (we're never sure which comes first), he played supporting guitar behind Charley Patton, took a walk down to the crossroads with Tommy Johnson, ran up on Robert Johnson in a graveyard, managed to get Rice Miller (Sonny Boy #2) blamed for a holdup, boosted whiskey and musical instruments, stumbled upon T-Bone Walker on Central Avenue, and drove the dying harmonica wizard, Henry Strong, to the hospital in Muddy Waters' car, not to mention having driven to Memphis with Big Boy Crudup, on the advice of a bizarre Tampa Red dream, and happened to walk into Sun studios when some young, white hillbilly kid, not long out of short pants, was recording for Sam Philips. The friendships he maintained with Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and other legendary bluesmen, including a young, black guitar player from the northwest, spring to life as each page unfolds.
Perhaps what makes this such incredible reading is that everything is believable because it's Coley Williams talking through the entire book. You become friends with this lost and rambling soul, get used to his voice, his laugh, his spirit, his attempts to climb the blues ladder of respect that his runnin' partners achieved, and his shortcomings. Dalton has taken his character and his tales down each and every road; using factual accounts and fish stories, and has stitched all the pieces together into a seamless ride that becomes one of the best accounts of written blues since Mike Rowe's "Chicago Breakdown" (republished as "Chicago Blues"). The wide variety of sources credited ranges from "Honkers And Shouters" by Arnold Shaw, to Robert Palmer's "Deep Blues," Mance Lipscomb's "I Say Me For A Parable," and much more. This book, as much as any of those mentioned, becomes part of the fabric of blues, and adds considerably to its history.
David Dalton has spent years writing about rock and roll and the colorful and disturbing tales that abound that subject. Finally, paying tribute to blues with "Been Here And Gone," the author succeeds on every level in recapturing the smells and sounds of a Saturday night fish fry, the peaceful mysteriousness of the Mississippi Delta, the tumbledown tenements of Chicago's West Side, the hustle of Central Avenue in Los Angeles, and the roughness of Memphis' Beale Street. Along the way, learning of Tommy Johnson's pact with other worlds, the opposing sides of Charley Patton, as both the bluesman and the preacher, the grace and regality of Muddy Waters, the wit and wisdom of Furry Lewis, and considerably more. The subject of blues in written form does have a lengthy history. With "Been Here And Gone," David Dalton joins the ranks of Peter Guralnick, Mike Rowe, Sam Charters, and others who have managed to bring the colorful and bizarre story of blues to life. Highly recommended reading for anyone!
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, 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.
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