In Search of the Blues
I've just finished In Search of the Blues. Black Voices, White Visions by Marybeth Hamilton and I would thoroughly recommend it to seasoned blues fans rather than those who are just getting into this great music. The reason for my reservation is that Hamilton frequently challenges much received wisdom; in fact, she slaughters so many sacred cows that, to fully appreciate her approach, it is advisable to be familiar with some of her 'victims' here. The chapter on John Lomax and his dealings with Leadbelly is a real eye-opener and makes for very sad reading. Elsewhere, the disintegration of Lomax's relationship with his own son is just as moving. Also fascinating is her account of the tragic James McKune and the Blues Mafia, and her thoughts on the ambivalent effect the arrival of the phonograph had on the art of blues singing. It had never before crossed my mind that the new technology might have had, as Hamilton outlines, any deleterious consequences. The book's title, incidentally, refers to the activities of the early collectors rather than the author's own journey through the Deep South. If you've already read, say, Robert Palmer's Deep Blues and Alan Lomax's The Land Where the Blues Began, this should definitely be your next purchase.