The state of blues magic today in the nation that gave birth to it. Columnist and journalist (Atlanta Weekly Magazine)...



The state of blues magic today in the nation that gave birth to it. Columnist and journalist (Atlanta Weekly Magazine) Merrill had a great idea--to drive around the country, visiting the various hot spots of the blues and taking their temperature--but his execution here is less compelling than his interviews with active bluesmen. One of Merrill's main points is that the blues aren't just about depression; they are also for moments of lively release and great humor. Says Bruce Iglauer, head of Chicago's Alligator Records: "". . .blues musicians are saying what you need to say to yourself. I keep telling people that if it weren't for the blues, I'd be a crazy person. I suspect I am a crazy person, but it's easier to hide it in the music."" But, says Billy Branch, premier blues harmonica player in Chicago: ""But it don't just involve black culture. Look at Howard Hughes. A billionaire who died of starvation while he was wearing Kleenex boxes on his feet. That's the blues, man."" Blues musicians have a tough time. Their records get almost no air time; young listeners want rock music; the black audience has virtually disappeared everywhere, with most audiences 85% white; and most bluesmen are going to have day jobs that bring in their larger earnings. Meanwhile, middle-class blacks dismiss the blues as unworthy of their upward mobility and as an unwanted reminder of hard times past. Says Koko Taylor, the Queen of the Blues in Atlanta: ""It's a funny thing, but blacks do not support blacks . . .I'd love to say that blacks support me. But they don't."" Merrill drives cross, country from one dive to another, breathing in the blues wherever he can find them; digs for roots in the Mississippi Delta and follows branches from Houston to Oakland; explodes some myths but rarely gets much deeper than the memories of his interviewees. Worthy but not wonderful.

Pub Date: July 26, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1990