Book review: Ted Gioia’s Delta Blues

Delta blues

Finally, I get to write a book review of something I actually liked—Ted Gioia’s Delta Blues. Here’s a taste:

Gioia focuses each chapter on a particular musician, who exemplifies a new development in the music. In chapter 3, Charley Patton represents the rough, raw blues that emerged from plantations and prison farms. Chapter 6 concentrates on Robert Johnson as the music’s first true virtuoso and recording star. Chapter 7, the Muddy Waters chapter, shows how the former McKinley Morganfield personified the music’s electrification and then its migration to Chicago.

The penultimate chapter examines how B.B. King exemplified the Memphis blues, and its fusion with jazz and rock. With the chapter on Son House, Gioia shows how the influential artist demonstrated the music’s tension between the secular and the Christian.

Although a single key figure governs each chapter, Gioia branches out from them regularly, connecting these representative musicians with those who influenced them and who they, in turn, affected. So, while the famous names are all here, Delta Blues also discusses the obscure paths down which the music has traveled. Robert Johnson shares space with Tommy Johnson, and relative unknowns, such as Bukka White, garner significant attention alongside John Lee Hooker. Through careful research and judicious speculation, he conjures up an entire world in which musicians are not isolated but always part of a larger picture.

Go read the rest in this week’s issue of Jackson Free Press.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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