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Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues Paperback – 1 Jan 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad (1 Jan. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060524278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060524272
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

“If you read only one book about blues...read this one.” (Starred Booklist on Escaping the Delta)

About the Author

Elijah Wald is a writer and musician whose books include Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues and How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. A respected expert on the folk revival, he collaborated with Dave Van Ronk on The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the inspiration for the Coen Brothers' film Inside Llewyn Davis. His awards include a 2002 Grammy, and he has taught blues history at UCLA and lectured widely on American, Mexican, and world music. He currently lives in Medford, Massachusetts.


Inside This Book

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First Sentence
THERE HAS PROBABLY BEEN MORE ROMANTIC FOOLISHNESS written about blues in general, and Robert Johnson in particular, than about any other genre or performer of the twentieth century. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Timothy De Ferrars on 19 May 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book looked interesting to me. It turned out to be compelling.
Like many others, I have always thought of the blues as a traditional, black musical style rooted in rural poverty, slavery, violence and dark bargains with the devil.
Escaping the Delta gently debunks these myths, and replaces them with an explanation that is both more interesting and more convincing. The book is intelligently structured, with an introductory section, a song-by-song treatment of Johnson's recordings (listen as you read!) and a rather understated wrap-up.
This is not a biography, and it leaves much of Johnson's life, relationships and death untouched. But Wald's point is that Johnson has been hijacked and turned into a modern phenomenon that would be unrecognizable to him and his peers, so he rightly focuses on the legend rather than the life.
If you are new to the blues, buy a copy of Escaping the Delta and a CD of the complete recordings of Robert Johnson, settle down with your favourite beverage and enjoy this book. If you are already into the blues, do all of the above, dig deeper into your record collection....and be ready for some surprises.
I have nothing but praise for this book, which is immaculately researched, fresh in its thinking, and always entertaining. I recommend it unreservedly.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By G. P. Akerman on 29 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback
The American reviews inside the cover make it clear that this caused quite a stir in the States. This is a terrific book - and one which, for once, challenges the blues fan a little, rather than providing familiar stereotypes of lonesome Delta bluesmen developing their genius in rural isolation. For anyone who loves Robert Johnson, Son House, Skip James et al, this will be a treat - but a treat which will possibly change the way you regard their music. (It even comes with a CD!)
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jess Ratcliff on 29 May 2010
Format: Paperback
For a lifelong Blues fan, and lover of the of the Delta Blues, this book was a revelation and helped me to re-evaluate my opinion not only of Robert Johnson but also of many other artists who were his contemporaries, as well as the place of the Blues in the history of 20th Century popular music.

The book starts with Wald's own personal recollection of how he started questioning the myth of Robert Johnson and investigating the reality. The rest of the book is then divided into three main sections.

The first section puts Robert Johnson into his cultural and historical context. Chapter 1 discusses what is actually meant by the term 'the Blues' and looks at how music and musicians are classified as belonging to one genre or another. Wald makes the valid point that market forces have contributed much to our popular (mis)understanding of the Blues and that this is very much at odds with what people in the 20-30's would have understood as 'Blues music'.

The remaining chapters then offer a survey of Blues music and its most popular performers from the start of the 20th Century up to the 30's. Wald's main points are that Blues was much more varied than the 12 bar, Country/ Delta style, but also included the hugely popular female dominated Classic Blues of Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey as well as the piano/ guitar blues of Leroy Carr, Tampa Red & Peetie Wheatstraw. That the recorded works of the major artists does not accurately reflect the varied repetoire that most musicians played or their ability to cross-over to different genres. Finally that the image of the dungeree, plaid shirt, country bumpkin folk singer also marginalises the professionalism of those singers as well as the real and butal poverty they were trying to escape.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By NickG VINE VOICE on 24 Jan. 2005
Format: Paperback
Chuck away your romantic notions (if you had any). The blues wasn't the heart-aching voice of the opressed, but the down-home pop music of its time. The 'names' were professionally slick, and lived a good(-ish) life.
One could probably quibble with some of the interpretations of the music's history, but this is fascinating and valuable re-consideration of the story of the blues as we thought we knew it.
It's a shame in a way, because I always rather liked the more traditional take, but it's probably about time I grew up anyway.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr. P. Sturdee on 4 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
If you love the blues and haven't read this book, then you should read it right away. If you're already familiar with the myths about the blues propagated by the likes of Lomax and Charters, then you'll find this text a real eye-opener. The author makes no apology for presenting his personal opinions, given the scarcity of reliable facts about the origin of the blues, and about Robert Johnson's life, but his views are carefully researched and meticulously detailed.
At the same time he carefully analyses the myth-making about the blues that has gone on over the past eighty years or so - and concludes that most of it is based on romanticised bunkum.
If, as Wald argues, the blues really was merely one kind of popular music favoured by American working-class blacks in the early years of the last century, then it is even more remarkable that it went on to inspire a devotion to its musical form that has long outlasted any other pop genre. It is undeniable that the influence of the blues has reached far beyond its origins to almost every part of the planet.
In my view Wald's interpretation is far more credible than those of Lomax and Charters (and others like them), and, unlike the blues purists, he does not impose a narrow definition of the blues but instead sees it as an evolving art form that is worth keeping alive, rather then being confined to a metaphorical glass case in a musical museum.
Wald is careful to leave his readers with their self-respect intact, whatever their own opinions, and allows you to come to your own conclusions.
I found the writing compelling, the analysis of Johnson's recordings absolutely fascinating, and Wald's conclusions left space for me to preserve my own love of the blues intact.
Highly recommended.
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