Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the

Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the

10 thoughts on “Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues

  1. Benjamin Fasching-Gray Benjamin Fasching-Gray says:

    This was painful Like I need some hippy blues nerd to tell me that black people listen to all kinds of music and that white audiences bring their racist baggage to how they hear the music All his points are valid but they are so belabored If you are after truth and authenticity then this dude is fighting the good fight in the culture wars If you just dig the blues and you know it's phony then this is going to hurt He should of just written a biography of Leroy Carr instead of gunning for all the claptonclones who'll buy this polemic because the unholy robert johnson is on the cover and in the subtitle Or maybe not I just don't care what most blues fans think of the blues I don't feel the need to convert the hoards of beer bellied white boys from worshiping chicken choking guitar solos to dancing to barrelhouse piano I guess if Elijah Wald broadens a few horizons that would be a good thing though Maybe the Chicago blues scene would unfreeze and start innovating again if the tiny bit of money it does make wasn't mostly coming from wannabe outlaw bikers who want to hear sweet home chicago a million times Part of the problem as the author keeps assuring us he's just like us he prefers the creepy outsider art obscure deep blues to the stuff that was popular at the time It's like he's trying to convince himself to stop thinking of his favorites as the most authentic and to recognize how his own whiteness has informed his taste in black music at the same time that he is trying to convince the reader There's a generational thing happening here too cuz if you're post civil rights like me then you didn't get into blues when bob dylan went electric at newport and yeah okay sure I followed british white rockers down their rabbit holes but Al Green singing Hank Williams didn't confuse my assumptions about race either I mean are there really still people who think an illiterate ex con blues man is authentic than say Dinah Washington? Knowwhaddimean? Pulling Yakub's white supremacy pins out of our devil brains is painful and this book brings the pain so if you can stand being lectured to this is good

  2. robin friedman robin friedman says:

    The Blues And Romantic HistoryMany Americans have shown a great interest in roots music as part of a highly commendable effort to understand our country's life and culture Much of this interest has over the years focused on the blues of the Mississippi Delta and in particular on the recordings of singer and guitarist Robert Johnson 1911 1938 Johnson was an obscure figure in his day and his life and music remain the stuff of legend He had two recording dates in 1936 and 1937 His music was rediscovered in the 1960s and since that time the sales of his collected recordings have numbered in the millionsIn Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues 2004 Elijah Wald offers a compelling study of the blues and of blues historiography focusing on Robert Johnson Wald tries to correct what he deems to be the prevailing myths about Johnson that he was a primitive folk artist caught in the Mississippi Delta who recorded and perfected a local traditional form of blues Wald finds Johnson an ambitious young singer who had studied the blues forms popular in his day Johnson Wald argues wanted to escape the Mississippi Delta and pattern himself on the urban blues singers in particular Leroy Carr emanating from the Midwest and ChicagoWald finds that Johnson displayed a variety of blues styles in his recordings and that he was largely ignored by black music listeners of his day because Johnson's early efforts to capture an urban blues style were basically copies of successful singers and because his songs in the Delta blues style lacked appeal to the urban and sophisticated black audience of the timeJohnson's music only became well known Wald argues with the rise of English rock and with his rediscovery by a largely white audience The tastes of black music listeners had moved in a mostly different direction towards soul funk rap disco and did not encompass rural blues singers The fascination of modern listeners with Johnson according to Wald is due to a romantic spirit a boredom with the life of the everyday and a search for a past full of authentic individuals who knew their own wants and needs and who projected themselves in their artWald's book begins with a history of the blues before Robert Johnson focusing on the commercial character the music had at the outset He gives a great deal of attention to the Blues ueens Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and to their smooth voiced male successors particularly Leroy Carr as mentioned above and Lonnie Johnson These singers profoundly influenced Johnson's music and his ambitions to become a popular entertainer and not a cult figureThe central part of Wald's book consists of a brief biography of Johnson summarizing the various speculations on his life and of a song by song discussion of his recordings In this discussion Wald discusses the music with a great deal of intelligence and understanding He shows very clearly Johnson's debts to his commercially successful predecessors and explains as well the variety of blues styles Johnson encompassed in his songsThe final portion of the book carries the story of the blues forward beyond Robert Johnson's death It shows how the music at first evolved into a combo style again approaching popular music which took blues into a different direction from Johnson's recordings The book concludes with a discussion of Johnson's rediscovery and the discovery of other Delta blues singers beginning in the 1960'sWald clearly knows his material For all his criticism of the mythmaking cult over Johnson Wald's love for this music shines through as he is the first to admit Upon reading this book I spent considerable time rehearing Johnson's music and felt I came away with a better understanding and appreciation of it than I had before The goal of every book about music should be to encourage its readers to return to or get to know the songs or what have you themselves The book meets this goal admirablyThere are few books on the blues that manage to be both scholarly critical and inspiring and Wald's book is one of these few I do not find Wald's thesis as unusual as he claims it to be but it certainly will be worth exploring by listeners and readers who do not have a large background in this musicIn music a fair and careful historical account will in the long run perform a greater service to the music and the artists than will legends and stereotypes The Delta singers discussed in this book Robert Johnson Son House Skip James Charley Patton were musicians of talent Understanding their story can only increase the listener's appreciation of the bluesRobin Friedman

  3. David Glenn Dixon David Glenn Dixon says:

    Washington City PaperArts Entertainment Book ReviewHighway 61 RevisitedBy Glenn Dixon • January 23 2004The blues was invented by white people Although that’s the incendiary thesis behind Elijah Wald’s provocative new book Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues it’s unlikely to anger many African Americans Because Wald isn’t talking about the music per se; he’s challenging the way the nostalgic modern idea of the blues has been constructed by the liberal supposedly educated white audience that has constituted the music’s main fan base for the last few decades Readers are likely to be pissed off in direct proportion to their having bought into the myth that the “real” blues is an authentic folk expression that taps into the hoodoo mystery of primitive black America a devil haunted cri de coeur that rises like fog from the cotton fields of Mississippi Readers are likely to be pissed off in direct proportion to their being Greil MarcusNo seriously Just about everybody who made Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings the unlikeliest of platinum selling smashes has another think coming Wald hangs his argument on Johnson not just because getting the bluesman’s name in the subtitle and picture on the cover exponentially increases the audience for any book about the blues but because the cherished myth of the blues has been hung on Johnson by several generations of white admirers If any one person currently symbolizes the genre it is the tortured solitary wanderer who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads at midnight in the bargain gaining a genius unforetold and died in 1938 poisoned by a jealous husband at the rock death magical age of 27Wald starts out on his uest to dismantle the fuzzy minded exceptionalism that has grown up around Johnson by giving him back his historical context Even if baby boomer intellectuals don’t take the crossroads legend literally they have largely been suckered by the notion that the customary patterns of example and influence don’t apply in Johnson’s case that though he was of the place and time that was the Mississippi Delta in the ’30s he somehow stood outside it The country bluesman is often pictured as a hunched and shadowy figure shouldering his guitar down a lonesome road on the outskirts of town; Wald methodically fills in the missing landscape taking care to contrast the actuality of the milieu that can be reassembled from historical fragments with the expectations of the cult that latched on to Robert Johnson King of the Delta Blues Singers the compilation issued by Columbia Records in 1961Wald fleshes out his account with a bevy of inconvenient facts Laugh In comic Pigmeat Markham performed in blackface as late as the ’40s Lawrence Welk “had a strong enough following among black listeners to reach the RB top ten in 1961”; Mamie Smith’s oft cited “Crazy Blues” is the first blues recording only if you discount earlier performances by white artists who had better access to record labels “The world is not a simple place” Wald writes and we should expect Johnson’s story to be no simpler than anyone else’sIf Escaping the Delta is never less than thoroughly compelling it’s in part because Wald draws on decades of experience as both musician and writer having toured on the folk and blues circuit served as a world music critic for the Boston Globe and authored a biography of folkiebluesman Josh White as well as Narcocorrido an excursion into the world of the Mexican drug ballad As persuasive as the lesson he imparts is Wald never puts you in mind of the dusty academic largely because he is his own best pupil Once a member of the Johnson cult and still much enad of the raw “down home” sound he had to update his own views as he was drawn ever deeper into the musicWald reclaims early recorded country blues as commercially conditioned popular music as opposed to the untainted folk expression it is sentimentally taken to be The success of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Paramount recordings in the mid ’20s opened the floodgates “Within months the Race catalogs filled with a varied panoply of Southern street corner players” Wald observesThe author also rebalances the history of prewar blues giving pre eminence back to the glitzy female shouters of the ’20s Ma Rainey Ida Cox Bessie Smith and their ilk not only packed urban theaters they also were favorites in the countryside “During the period when blues was at its peak of popularity transcending all other black styles” Wald emphasizes “the female singerswere always the music’s biggest stars” The aesthetic represented by these women and their horn blowing backing bands is at odds with that of Son House Skip James and other down home singer guitarists little known bluesmen whose few recordings sold poorly upon their initial release But in the ’50s and ’60s the hip shakin’ mama decked out in beads and spangles than a whole crew of Neil Diamond impersonators got crowded out of the record bins by compilations that drew from the collections of shellac fiends who “by emphasizing obscurity as a virtue unto itselfessentially turned the hierarchy of blues stardom upside down The records an artist had sold in 1928 the less he or she was valued in 1958” Or 1998 for that matterWald shades in the picture further by emphasizing the influence that record men had over which material was cut released and distributed making plain the difference between what and how a country bluesman might play live and what was represented by his body of recorded work Although Johnson and others like him certainly brought some fully conceived polished performances to their sessions the three minute 78 also had a way of codifying as compositions rambling numbers that might originally have consisted of “floating” couplets that could be strung together willy nilly over any number of arrangements which themselves might be selected from a stock of interchangeable 12 bar patterns livened up with grab bag licksThese licks weren’t always handed down from teacher to student in the flesh via live performance and tutoring Many early bluesmen conducted part of their apprenticeship at the Victrola or by the radio Wald argues And although AR men wanted original material juke joint dancers wanted the hits It may come as a disappointment to some of their fans to learn that the down home exemplars could play the human jukebox as well as anyone—they were after all the bar bands of their day—and that their tastes weren’t nearly as rigid as those of their admirers Wald notesCharley Pride is not the only African American who ever loved country and western music When Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James got together in the 1960s they would sometimes trade yodels on Jimmie Rodgers’s 'Waiting for a Train' Just as in the 1920s no one saw fit to record this duet since it was not what the public expected of them So Hurt and James sang the hillbilly harmonies for their own pleasure then went onstage and played the blues songs that their audience wanted to hearHaving thus prepared his readers to hear Johnson anew Wald loads up the CD changer and lets it rip For blues enthusiasts who aren’t professional musicologists particularly those unfamiliar with obscure Johnson predecessors and contemporaries such as “Hambone” Willie Newbern and Johnnie Temple there may be few illuminating satisfying ways to spend a weekend than trekking through The Complete Recordings with Wald as their guideWald holds up to the light the 42 surviving Johnson sides one of which the first take of “Traveling Riverside Blues” appears on the 1998 reissue of King of the Delta Blues Singers but hadn’t been discovered when The Complete Recordings came out in 1990 pinpointing the influence not only of fellow Mississippi guitarists such as House and Charley Patton but also that of the Tennessee born singer pianists Peetie Wheatstraw based in East St Louis and Leroy Carr who had grown up in Indianapolis Selections by these artists can be found on the separately sold companion CD Back to the Crossroads The Roots of Robert Johnson not to be confused with a less comprehensive 1990 disc also on Yazoo titled simply The Roots of Robert Johnson Throughout the author emphasizes that the notion of the blues as a music that holds guitar heroics above all else is strictly ahistorical a fancy of post folk boom revivalists; in Johnson’s day the blues was first and foremost a singer’s métierWald finds Johnson “going for some hits” at his earliest session but once those prepared up to date selections are exhausted the musician starts dipping into the song bag plundering his past Given the veto power of his label ARC Johnson was able to cut a surprising variety of material from the uick tongued hokum of “They’re Red Hot” ostensibly a celebration of “hot tamales” to the folky “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” which Wald calls “by far the most ‘country’ piece he recorded” Such songs do little to advance the familiar portrayal of Johnson as demon possessed Delta primitive but they’re part of his repertoire just the sameBecause ARC didn’t seem to care which approved takes were pressed it often issued different performances under the same title and catalog number making it possible to compare Johnson not only with other recording artists but with himself And so we find him altering performances to better conform to the running time and we discover that seemingly offhand asides follow a script Those performances that went unissued reveal how standards have changed The plaintive first take of “Come on in My Kitchen” idolized by everyone who approaches it from the self expressionist perspective of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones is seen not to pass muster with Johnson’s producers who reuired that a “hot upbeat” second take be madeDespite Johnson’s concessions to the tastes of his time much of his work seems to have had little impact before being taken up by the revivalists of the British Invasion Wald even asserts that “as far as the evolution of black music goes Robert Johnson was an extremely minor figure and very little that happened in the decades following his death would have been affected if he had never played a note”But having disabused Johnson’s admirers of their dearly held beliefs Wald offers something richer in their stead clear eyed vibrant history rather than misty fairy tale In Wald’s narrative Johnson takes his place as a musician who displayed “genius as an adapter and synthesizer” one whose recordings provided “a better survey of 1930s trends than we can hear in the work of any other single player”In an “Afterthought” titled “So What About the Devil?” Wald goes after the Johnson cult’s most sacred myth the supposedly demonic origin of the man’s talent tracking parts of the legend to other performers such as the unrelated Tommy Johnson whose preacher brother LeDell was uite the spinner of tales and Wheatstraw né William Bunch who billed himself as “the Devil’s Son in Law” Wald also observes that the lyrics to purportedly witchy Johnson fare such as “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” and “Me and the Devil Blues” were likely to be perceived by their original audiences as jokes rather than the dire prophecies that rock raised fantasists made of them decades laterAlthough Escaping the Delta doesn’t line up Johnson’s mythologizers by name it ought to make it impossible for its readers to ever again approach Marcus’ Mystery Train—once dubbed “probably the best book ever written about rock” by Rolling Stone—with a straight face And as for the messy slaverings of the late All Music Guide scribe and “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” auteur Cub Koda who wrote that most “historical naysayers” have “never made a convincing case as where the source of Johnson’s apocalyptic visions emanates from” Wald has formulated the most well reasoned response yet It emanates from you CP

  4. Michele Michele says:

    Great exploration of blues and their original place in popular music However Wald is obviously fighting some blues scholar group think that doesn't seem as prevalent any Perhaps this book is what helped show scholars that the popular lonesome weary traveled blues player icon was not the only nor the most common blues singer out there I found his assertion that women were the original consumers of blues and women vocalists like Bessie Smith Ma Rainey etc were the ones who originally propogated blues especially fascinating Apparently the 60s revival spurred largely by white British male rockers pushed guitars and the lonesome male blues singer to the forefront This says about Western culture in the 1960s than it does about blues music from the 1920s I think Interesting thoroughly research read if you can get through the condescending bits

  5. Nelson Nelson says:

    Excellent overview but not so much of Robert Johnson as the history of the Blues in America The book is divided into three parts the land where Johnson lived Mississippi Delta what we actually know of Robert Johnson's life and to what degree the blues was actually influenced by Johnson who Clapton said was the greatest blues man whoever lived A primary theme of the history is how blues is perceived by its two primary audiences First blues was originally a popular form of music played and marketed to African Americans In time the high society felt a romantic nostalgia for this primitive folk style with obvious roots in West Africa Eventually this would lead to the second and primary consumers of marketed blues music today white people There are some major problems with this idea of blues being simply folk music All of the major early blues artists were professional musicians and the best ones Lonnie Johnson were proficient in a number of different styles No doubt there are strong roots in Africa the blue notes slide guitar techniue began on a diddley bow an instrument with strong similarity to instruments played on the West African coast but the greats no doubt had professional training and acted as professional musicians Just as musicians are asked to play songs today from standard radio fare the old blues musicians did the same Also people in the Delta though primarily African American had wide variety in tastes Thanks to the invention of the phonograph and growing popularity of radio the idea that blues was the only thing they were exposed to is absurd Other styles ie jazz jug bands classical ragtime etc also influenced these artists There is proof available that blues artists could well have been trained by classically trained former slaves; the influence of 19th Century Spanish guitar master Tarrega is cited in particular It wasn't uncommon for the southern aristocracy to train their slaves to perform chamber music and have classical ensembles After the blues revival in the 1960s the audience became increasingly white To this day there are many areas in the rural south where African Americans listen to the blues but with the mainstream African American audience music evolved and moved on soul rb funk hip hop Whites may have romanticized these rugged rural folk artists singing their days laments but for the general African American audience it came to be associated with places like Mississippi Not only was it considered old fashioned or countrified it also came to be associated with the severe oppression old south Robert Johnson himself is often viewed by whites as this 'ghost' out of the Delta who hoboed around the country To a degree this part of his myth is true he was definitely well traveled and probably received some training in New Orleans Johnson was a young talented and very ambitious musician in his time Outside of Mississippi he had one song that made wide appeal Terraplane Blues The remarkable thing about the 36 recordings we have of him are the variety He's a much versatile player than many of the other artists from the same region This indicates he really hadn't found his voice as a musician and had he lived into his sixties may have well been part of the jump blues of the forties or Chicago Blues of the 1950s 1960s We just don't know One thing you can count on he had dreams of escaping the Delta and no doubt had his eyes on the wealthier cities to the north Finally Wald points out that Johnson had relatively little if any impact on the blues world in the years after his death Even today most blues musicians like the idea of listening to Johnson better than actually listening to him His primary influence has been via the 1960s folk revival and his adoption among sixties rockers especially the British rockers as a cult figure the ultimate Byronic hero of the blues After all the man did die at 27 after being poisoned in a Juke Joint by the owner The owner's wife was amid an affair with the wandering musician Today he has three grave markers in the Delta and no one is actually sure where he resides Personally I like to think Bob wouldn't have it any other way You may bury my body down by the highway side Baby I don't care where you bury me when I'm dead and gone You may bury my body down by the highway side So my ole evil spirit can catch a greyhound bus and ride Robert Johnson Me and the Devil Blues

  6. Bill Bill says:

    The premise of this book is blues history as we know it is all wrong What we take for blues history is a string of musicians picked by a handful of English blues enthusiasts notably the Rolling Stones and rolled into a the myth of the poor outsider Real Blues history is far richer and diverse than what we think of when we think of the classical cannon of blues musicians today Whether you buy into that or not I do the book is a must read for any one interested in today's popular music or in the popular and folk music of the last century He even explain mysteries like why is the Mississippi Delta not the Mississippi River Delta which has been a uestion on my mind for some time and where exactly is this place located Most articles and books on the blues assume the general public knows than some of us do or blues bound authors simply like being arcane turning the blues into a private club where the mysteries are know only to a chosen few Mr Wald explains it all

  7. Chris Chris says:

    Very thorough and well researched history of the blues The author's primary aim is to separate myth from fact specifically in regard to Delta blues and Robert Johnson Mr Wald emphasizes the differences in perspective between black and white blues audiences and recounts the formation of the white blues revivalists' romanticized view of the Mississippi Delta blues For me it was a fascinating approach and after reading the book I've come to uestion my view of the blues and what I perceive as blues music in general The book is divided into three sections with part two devoted fully to Robert Johnson including his influences the development of his style the infamous recording sessions in Texas and the mystery surrounding his death In addition Mr Wald critiues and compares all versions of each song from the point of view of a blues fan and musician Overall a very enlightening read Well done Mr Wald

  8. Richard Richard says:

    I probably thought I knew the Blues After all I was born and raised in Mississippi and have lived most of my life within 40 miles of HWY 61 and within spitting distance of the Delta Turns out I didn't know suat either about Robert Johnson or the Blues in general This book by Elijah Wald was both a revelation and an education If you're at all interested in the Blues and how it relates and importantly perhaps how it DOESN'T relate to the early roots music of America you need this book Wald does a great job of separating fact from legend The legend remains of course Legends are awfully hard to kill and Robert Johnson at the Crossroads is too good a story But if you want the real story or at least as close to it as any of us are likely to get this book is the place to go

  9. Darren Darren says:

    Nice analysis of early blues and our misperceptions of what the early blues musicians were listening to what they were trying to be and the target audiences' own account of the history of the blues being so different from the mythology mostly perpetuated by white blues fans 3040 years after the fact

  10. Rodney Rodney says:

    Outstanding revisionist history of the early blues Fascinatingly informative throughout Helps appreciate Robert Johnson Skip James Son House and other icons no less but also see how Lonnie Johnson and others were much popular in their day and time and how the white cult of the blues created the images of early blues and blues musicians

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Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues [PDF] ✑ Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues ✓ Elijah Wald – The life of blues legend Robert Johnson becomes the centerpiece for this innovative look at what many consider to be America's deepest and most influential music genre Pivotal are the uestions surroun Delta Robert Epub ß The life of blues legend Robert Johnson becomes the centerpiece for this innovative look at what many consider to be America's deepest and most influential music genre Pivotal are the uestions surrounding why Johnson was ignored by the core black audience the Delta Robert Johnson and eBook â of his time yet now celebrated as the greatest figure in blues historyTrying to separate myth from reality biographer Elijah Wald studies the blues from the inside not only examining recordings but also the recollections of the musicians themselves the African American press Escaping the PDF or as well as examining original research What emerges is a new appreciation for the blues and the movement of its artists from the shadows of the s Mississippi Delta to the mainstream venues freuented by today's loyal blues fans.

  • Paperback
  • 368 pages
  • Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues
  • Elijah Wald
  • English
  • 07 December 2016
  • 9780060524272

About the Author: Elijah Wald

Delta Robert Epub ß Elijah Wald is a musician and writer with nine published books Most are about music blues folk world and Mexican drug ballads with one about hitchhikingHis new book is a revisionist history of popular music throwing out the usual critical conventions the Delta Robert Johnson and eBook â and instead looking at what mainstream pop fans were actually listening and dancing to over the years At readings he also plays guitar an.