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I'd Rather be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues Paperback – 21 Aug 1994
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"Penetrating and idiosyncratic . . . A remarkable book." "--Minneapolis City Pages"
"Entertaining and on the mark . . . Calt's narrative is always interesting and often spellbinding . . . Fascinating reading." "--Acoustic Guitar"
"[Calt] writes with a knowledge and intelligence that make even his most extreme statements interesting . . . His greatest virtue is his insistence on painting James as a real, albeit infuriating, person ." "Boston Globe""
"The appearance of a book on Skip James and his worlds as thorough, clearheaded, and insightful as Calt s should be considered a gift of fate. To say I d Rather Be the Devil is the best book on the subject of country blues for the layperson would be an understatement on the order of 'Air is good for your body.'"" Village Voice""
"This is the real thing. I drink up every word. This and Calt s life of Charlie Patton are the best books ever written on the subject of old-time blues." R.Crumb, author, "R. Crumb s Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country""
"Intimate, learned, trenchant, chilling, and true . . . This work surpasses its task with comprehensive research and insight suggestive of far, uncharted travels." Alan Greenberg, author, "Love in Vain""
"An extraordinary work devoted to blues, and more specifically, to one of the true enigmas of country blues." Lawrence Cohn, editor, "Nothing But the Blues""
"Penetrating and idiosyncratic . . . A remarkable book." "Minneapolis City Pages""
"Entertaining and on the mark . . . Calt s narrative is always interesting and often spellbinding . . . Fascinating reading." "Acoustic Guitar""
"A fascinating and disturbing book, containing a lot of truth, a lot of interesting historical research, and a lot of food for thought." "Living Blues""
From the Back Cover
This probing study uncovers much of the life and personality of one of the most talented, but disturbed, of bluesmen, Skip James. In documenting the singer's decline during the period of his greatest exposure, Stephen Calt challenges the values of blues enthusiasts and calls into question widely accepted beliefs about the blues genre, its history and its exponents.See all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
So why only 4 stars for such a great book?
Whereas Wald's book dissected the myths and closet racism surrounding some white blues appreciation in order to present a personally dearly loved music with clarity and respect, Calt pours spleen over everything. James was clearly a "bad man" in Calt's eyes, and this infects his appreciation of the music. Blues itself is seen as a severely limited art form (which it obviously is, in some ways) unworthy of consideration beyond Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Skip James - and Skip James only produced about three songs of any lasting worth in Calt's eyes. Blues enthusiasts are universally presented as idiots, charlatans or exploitative businessmen - despite the fact that this reviewer, and probably you reading this, would never have come across Johnson, James, Patton, House etc. if there hadn't been a revival of interest in the 1960s.Read more ›
Calt is often accused of being "mean spirited" and pompous and such. Any writer whose purpose it is to shatter baseless myths is certain to ruffle some feathers. And that is the point.
And then there's James. Calt probably got closer to James than anybody, certainly any white person and the emerging portrait is not an attractive one. James was cold, emotionally remote and mean-spirited; a seemingly bottomless well of contradiction; for example he portrayed himself as a victim of women who wished to bring him down, while he himself had used women in the most cynical sense by working as a pimp.
Calt knew James for the last five years of his life, by which time the brilliant musician of the 30's had become a bitter, ailing old man. When you read this book you will begin to get a better understanding of his music. The high, wailing voice and haunting guitar runs that are the perfect vessels for James to express his deep dissatisfaction of the way life's cards were dealt to him.
While not uplifting, this is an important book which any fan of the blues should read.
What mars this book is the huge chip on Calt's shoulder. Yes, he captures the tough, primitive conditions of the bluesman in the pre-WW2 Deep South better than anyone else ever has but Lord, does this Calt fellow have a chip on his shoulder or what? He maintains Skip James was a musical genius (true), a total nightmare as a human being (seems to be so, alas...) and that James had only four truly great songs (baloney).
By the end of the book you want to both hear some Skip James music and find Calt and smack him in the mouth. He's dead now so we have missed our collective chance but I doubt, much as we admire his knowledge, there is a single Amazon customer who would want to have had a meal with Calt as company. Or had a meal with Skip James either but at least James could pick guitar like no other soul on this planet before or since. Still, this book is valuable and we thank both gentlemen for their art if not their lifestyles.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I had read some of the previous reviews of this book, it's fair to say that none of them do it justice. I was hoping to read a balanced biography of a blues giant. Read morePublished on 17 Jun. 2013 by foomum
Again an appreciated Christmas present, prompt arrival in good condition. A supplementary prese3nt to go with the book 'The land where the Blues was born@.Published on 13 Feb. 2013 by Marilyn Relph
What we have here:1) The lengthy and always compelling transcribed oral-autobiography of Skip James, a brilliant, idiosyncratic (and none too nice) blues musician from Bentonia,... Read morePublished on 7 Feb. 1999
Calt obviously knows his stuff when it come to Delta blues. Regrettably, his spiteful and unneccessary attacks on fellow blues enthusiasits ( guitarist John Fahey is a favorite... Read morePublished on 15 May 1998