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SINS IN BLUE by Brian  Kaufman


by Brian Kaufman

Pub Date: May 21st, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-944715-59-5
Publisher: Black Rose Writing

A precocious Pennsylvania blues fan attempts to resurrect the career of one of his idols in this novel.

Pittsburgh, 1969. Eighteen-year-old Kennedy Barnes loves the blues. The prize item in his record collection is a tape procured from the Library of Congress recorded back in 1934 by an obscure bluesman named Willie Johnson. In fact, Kennedy believes that the song on the tape is proof Willie actually invented rock ’n’ roll: “The guitarist punctured the chug-chug rhythm with bursts of high-speed blues runs, like Clapton on amphetamines. He listened to the two-minute song again and again while the sun played a light requiem on his bedroom wall.” After a fight with his father leaves Kennedy’s record collection shattered, he leaves home with a duffel bag, the Willie tape reel, and $300. His destination is Fort Collins, Colorado, where the elderly Willie now works in a motel laundry. Kennedy tracks him down only to discover that Willie is white—not exactly the image of the bluesman that the teenager had in his head. Bound by the shared love of the blues and a desire to improve their standing, Willie agrees to let Kennedy represent him as his manager. Their plan is to land a record contract at the famous Newport Folk Festival. But does either the teen huckster or the washed-up guitarist have what it takes to make it there? Kaufman’s prose is textured and full of personality: “There were no streetlights, and Kennedy was a little nervous about the traffic. Dark as it was, and fast as cars were going, no one would be able to spot them before knocking them fifty yards into a ditch.” Kennedy and Willie make for an appealing odd couple, with personalities as divergent as their ages. The book displays a deep affection and knowledge of early rock ’n’ roll (though the author’s decision to make the genre’s inventor a white man is a bit strange and perhaps heretical). Music fans will enjoy this short novel despite its revisionism.

An engaging tale about two music lovers trying to set the historical record straight.