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Escaping the Delta


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About the Author

Elijah Waldis a writer and musician whose books include Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues and How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. A respected expert on the folk revival, he collaborated with Dave Van Ronk on The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the inspiration for the Coen Brothers' film Inside Llewyn Davis. His awards include a 2002 Grammy, and he has taught blues history at UCLA and lectured widely on American, Mexican, and world music. He currently lives in Medford, Massachusetts.


"There has probably been more romantic foolishness written about blues in general, and Robert Johnson in particular, than just about any other genre or performer in the twentieth century." So writes blues scholar Wald in his unromanticized recount of this genre's roots in popular music and of Johnson as a minor player in the music's early development. With weighty research and an acute personal knowledge, Wald takes a candid look at the music as a whole and at his own aesthetics as a white musician, fan, and journalist, removing many of the stereotypes and much of the folklore built up over the last century. The blues have always been commercial music made by musicians trying to earn a living, and Johnson is Wald's benchmark to show how the tastes and fan base have changed over the years. It will probably sting for Claptonites to realize that the blues never were strictly black or as lyrically stern and hard-drinking as the white rock scene has imagined. This book has a broader historic scope than Barry Lee Pearson and Bill McCullough's recent Robert Johnson Lost and Found, which also debunks blues folklore but stays focused on Johnson and his supposed deal with the devil. An excellent resource for research; recommended for all libraries.-Eric Hahn, West Des Moines, IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"If you read only one book about this one." -- Starred Booklist on Escaping the Delta

In this combination history of blues music and biography of Robert Johnson, Wald, a blues musician himself (and author of Narcorrido), explores Johnson's rise from a little known guitarist who died in 1938 to one of the most influential artists in rock and roll. From the blues' meager beginning in the early 1900s to its '30s heyday and its 1960s revival, Wald gives a revisionist history of the music, which he feels, in many instances, has been mislabeled and misjudged. Though his writing sometimes reads like a textbook, and he occasionally gets bogged down in arcane musical references, Wald's academic precision aids him in his quest to re-analyze America's perception of the blues as well as in trying to decipher the music's murky true origins and history. Using a lengthy comparison of how white Americans and black Americans define the blues, Wald demonstrates how Johnson fit into the gray area between the two. Wald combines a short bio of Johnson with detailed analysis of his songs and the mysterious tales that are associated with him, giving a thorough account of Johnson's life, music and legend. The chapter on how white guitarists like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards interpreted who Johnson was and what he played really shows why he is not one of the many forgotten early 20th-century bluesmen. Wald's theories will no doubt cause passionate discussions among true blues aficionados, but the technical and obscure nature of much of his writing will make the book more of a useful reference resource. (Dec.) Forecast: Amistad is backing this title with a seven-city tour and 50-city radio campaign, with hopes of it becoming a crossover hit. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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