THE BLUES ROUTE by Hugh Merrill

THE BLUES ROUTE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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 26th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow