"Keeping the Blues Alive Award" Achievement for Blues on the Internet Presented by The Blues Foundation
Having joined the Rolling Stones in 1962, Bill Wyman has certainly been around the block from a blues standpoint. For those uninitiated, the Stones relied heavily on artists like Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo, Robert Johnson, and others for early inspiration. As a UK band, they were also privy to many performances by American bluesmen who were taking their music across the Atlantic as part of The American Folk Blues Festival tours. No stranger to writing, having penned Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock and Roll Band and Wyman Shoots Chagall, in 1990 and 1998 respectively, he tackles his love and passion for blues in Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey: A Journey To Music's Heart And Soul.
First off, the amount of love that went into this project is evident upon first opening it to skim through the pages. Incredibly detailed with hundreds of photographs, you are drawn into the world of blues and the journey is a pleasant and interesting one. Spanning close to four centuries, Wyman begins roughly in the early 1600's, briefly explaining slavery, later emancipation and freedom, and the variety of musical and social influences that have all played key roles in the foundation, form, and function of blues.
A wonderful and startling feature of this is the number of facts and anecdotes Wyman has amassed for this work. The layout plays to this gathering but also makes for somewhat scattered reading, where instead of devoting actual chapters to an artist or style, Wyman chooses to jump around, and in the process, leaves doors open that elicit conjecture and question. In covering Booker Washington White, Wyman states that the artist "first recorded in 1930, and between then and his final session in 1940, he released just nine records." What isn't clarified for the uneducated reader here is that while White may well have recorded a few scant sessions in the pre-war years, his rediscovery in the 1960's also led to a number of recording dates that filled out his somewhat slim catalog. In a section on Peetie Wheatstraw, he writes; "The myth of Satan, a man's soul, and the midnight meeting at a deserted Delta crossroads had not yet been invented when Peetie Wheatstraw staked his claim to the devil's patronage." While Peetie did refer to himself as the Devil's Son-In-Law on his 1930's recordings, a claim to Satan had been made by Tommy Johnson as early as the late 1920's. Wyman's tendency to skip around is also apparent in a chapter titled The Fabulous Fifties where a number of items seem oddly out of place; mention of John Lee Hooker recordings that stem from a 1949 date, a section devoted to Etta James where Wyman lists her essential recordings and picks three tracks from 1960 and one from 1967, and a lengthy passage on piano players, some who rose to prominence in the 1930's and 40's.
As is to be expected also is a writer's personal affectation with certain artists. In discussing John Lee Hooker, Wyman offers that "He is the last living link to the pre-war Delta blues tradition and remains a giant of the blues" (Hooker has since passed away). This assertion would be fine if Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Pinetop Perkins, and a few others were no longer with us, but indeed they are and still quite active, each with distinct and unquestionable ties to the pre-war Delta tradition. Both Edwards and Lockwood had close, personal associations to Robert Johnson, an artist regarded as one of the masters of pre-war Delta Blues, and Perkins began his long career as a guitarist (before switching to piano following a knife incident) who frequently ran with Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson, others with extensive ties to the pre-war Delta style. Robert Johnson himself becomes a rather curious question mark as well. While there are two known photographs of the pre-war blues guitarist (both included), Wyman suggests that a picture determined to be that of one Ike Zinnerman (also included), Robert's guitar teacher, could instead be a third photo of Johnson, yet he offers no documentation to solidify that claim.
While he scatters artists, thoughts, and ideas throughout the pages, it still is a fabulous piece of work and one deserving of accolades. The photography and other graphics are stunning with maps, fact files, essential recordings, record labels, and much more. And while it is a solid research tool with plenty to offer, it is also perhaps better to regard it as a coffee table book, one to be looked at in short reading periods, as opposed to long sittings. And even though the author found it necessary to include no less than thirty images of himself in the layout, Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey will certainly be a valuable addition to any blues collection as well as for individuals looking for a good history of American music. There is also a 2-CD set available (sold separately) that gathers a number of important tracks and makes a great companion for this book. Recommended.
Your purchase through this Amazon.com link helps to support this website.
Simply click on the cover at left or the buy button to order this Book NOW!
You can also help support this blues website by making a contribution (click on the banner below for details). Or mail a donation to: Ray Stiles % Blues On Stage, PO Box 582983, Mpls, MN 55458. Thanks!
Web Hosting & Design: Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983