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The History of the Blues Hardcover – Feb 1995

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Hardcover, Feb 1995

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Hyperion Books (Feb 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786860529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786860524
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 19 x 26.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,833,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Francis Davis is a contributing editor of the Atlantic Monthly and writes regularly for the New York Times and the New Yorker. He is the author of the acclaimed books Outcats and History of the Blues and a biography of John Coltrane (Knopf). He lives in Philadelphia. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
Such past tenants as Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, and John Lee Hooker notwithstanding, the gentleman in question was probably the most illustrious ever to bed down at the Riverside Hotel, across from the public elementary school on Sunflower Avenue, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Read the first page
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6 of 24 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Thomas on 20 April 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nothing new here, not particularly entertaining and a sprinkling of those old chestnuts that were cast aside long ago.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 23 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Excellent study and a needed corrective 30 July 2000
By Howard Sauertieg - Published on
Format: Paperback
History of the Blues is criticized for the author's "cynicism," but the author is justified in seeking to modify or correct much of the last century's "blues scholarship." The book is more valuable because Davis doesn't accept the suppositions and theories of earlier writers, and in the first chapters the author establishes that "the blues" are far more complex, socially and musically, than we've been led to believe. He writes with wit and plenty of feeling - but the feeling expressed is one of annoyance with blues and folk "scholars" who have either not researched very thoroughly, or who have deliberately ignored facts that subvert their simplistic theories. What are the blues? Where did they come from? What's happened to the blues since mid-century? Davis examines all of these questions and comes up with some reasonable and provocative answers. The book isn't meant to be a study of individual blues musicians; such works have already been written (by Samuel Charters, Peter Guralnick, Pete Oliver) and they were well-done. The History of the Blues is a very readable account of a century of confusion, best approached with an open and attentive mind.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Tony is wrong. This IS a good book! 28 Aug 2007
By A. Filacchione - Published on
Format: Paperback
I wonder if this person even read the same book that I am reading. Some people won't like this book simply because it does not always take a traditionalist view of things. It is much broader and more open minded and tends to look at the blues from a broader region (IOW, there are blues outside of the Delta region) in order to gain a better understanding of it, it's performers, and theories as to it's origins. It challenges common accepted notions, and encourages the reader to challenge them as well. Sure the author injects his own opinions and experiences from time to time, but not only does he back them up, he does not try to pass them off as concrete fact, and you are fully aware that these are his thoughts on a particular matter.

Now as far as some of the listed "inaccuracies" in the book... Tony states:

"he stupidly tries to talk about Bluegrass existing in the 1920s or about the Carter family." Well, what Francis Davis ACTUALLY says is the following:

"the repertoire of the typical black country songster of the 1920's was more or less identical to that of the white rural performers of the same period. [snip a sentence abt Miss. John Hurt] The typical black songster was probably someone like Leslie Riddle, a singer and guitarist from North Carolina who didn't record until the blues revival of the 1960s, and who might be completely forgotten now if not for his early relationship with A.P. Carter, the patriarch of the Carter Family, the legendary white country harmony group...."

The fact is that Leslie Riddle DID meet A.P. Carter in 1928. The two went on trips throughout the south "collecting songs" with A.P. Carter writing down the words to the songs they liked, and Riddle remembering the Music. (google for it)

Tony says that a history would include when the blues began, how it related to other forms of music and discuss different types of regional music. Tony then says "such a discussion would be far beyond Davis's knowledge or concern". In fact, Francis Davis *DOES* discuss these things. Perhaps Tony needs to re-read Chapter *1*! Francis discusses popular beliefs of the origins of the blues including African music, field hollers, and even celtic-derived folk music. He discusses the call and response of African music that is common in the blues, and then talks about how it is not unique to blues, but is also in folk, and gospel music of the time, and even quotes Robert Palmer to back himself up. He talks about the fact that blues did not just begin one day. It evolved over a longer period of time, and from a myriad of influences. The blues did not begin on whatever specific date in 1895 with the first recording, or in 1920 w/ Smith's "Crazy Blues". That's just when we got the first recorded evidence. It developed over decades before. He discusses regional variations. It's one of the rare books that covers the likes of Blind Willie McTell and Barbeque Bob Hicks as well as the Delta blues musicians, and Texas blues musicians, among others.

Re: Minstrelry vs Minstrelsy - well that would typically be the fault of the editor for not catching it, and is a common misspelling, but lets use that as ammo to discredit the author, shall we?

This book does assume that you know at least a little bit about the differetn blues musicians in question. It at least assumes that you recognize their names and have a pretty good idea of the region that they came from. This book is not a bunch of mini biographies for all of the bigger names in blues. If you want that, you need to look elsewhere. If you want something different, something that challenges common notions, and provides a nice overall "survey" of the blues, how it began, and evolved, then this is definitely a book to add to your collection
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
No Pretence! 30 Jun 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Finally, an "historian" who doesn't pretend to be an objective, impartial documenter of facts. This is Davis' version of the blues, and he lets you know it. Thankfully, he has the skill of a consummate wordsmith, an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject matter and a fan's love and appreciation for the music. This reads like a conversation with an old, knowledgeable friend and I, for one, find that refreshing. Definitely worth the time for anyone who's interested in something more than simple facts, dates and names
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Unusual combination of style and content 26 Feb 2006
By Robert G. Muller - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Overall, I liked this book. I came away from it with a greater understanding of the history of the blues, which was my intent going in. Davis is not afraid to challenge the status quo, which I respect, and back up his assertions with reason. He gives a good cross section of the people and places involved, and he seems to care about the subject (I feel that's important in a writer).

The major problem I had with this book is the style of writing. You sometimes have to read around Davis' words to get to the meat of the subject. His style thoroughly expresses his socio-political views, but that's not what I'd expect readers of this sort of book to be looking for. Maybe he misread his audience, or just has (or at least had at the time), a writing style that could not adapt to writing for readers looking to understand history. It's also possible that he purposely wrote it, with sales and marketing in mind, to appeal to an audience that he perceived as being large (i.e., "Clinton democrats"), but I believe a history book needs to transcend sociopolitical whims.

A recent reviewer said that Davis puts down African-Americans, but I simply don't believe that's true. In fact, I felt as though he reveres the black blues performers, both male and female. He does point out some of their individual imperfections, but that may actually be a good thing in this era of revisionist historians who are afraid to even mention the imperfections in the oppressed or the good sides of oppressors. By pointing out some of the personal imperfections, he actually leads us to a greater understanding of the people behind the music. As both a blues guitarist, and history researcher and writer myself, I value that.

In short, you can learn about the history of the blues from this book, and I expect that's why you would buy it. But you'll have to get past the perhaps-overly-personal style, especially early on. It shouldn't be the only book you read on the history of the blues, but it should be one of them.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A challenge to conventional thinking 3 April 2007
By Andrew - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Davis challenges you virtually from page 1. That's one thing a good book should do. A less thick skinned reader might have been a little upset with his characterisation of one of the main groups who love blues music: overweight 50-something white males. I am one. There was more than a faint suggestion that o50swm's have a faintly condescending attitude to those nice lil' darkies plunking away at their guitars. Rather than slamming the book shut, I re-examined my views. He had a point: it was at university when I discovered this music. At the time, I was in one of my more pretentious periods: faux angry young socialist. But all I can do is thank Mr Davis. I have looked at myself. NOw I am sure. I love this music. I just love it. There is much to learn from this book. I don't agree with Davis' contention that white folks can't play the blues. They can. They do and and they do it very well.
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