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11 Great Books About Blues

Read All About It!

Blues is a fantastic style of music to play and listen to but it’s also a fascinating story. Learning more about who created the music, what their lives were like, and the world they lived in will make your blues experience richer and help you understand the meaning behind the notes you play.

Here’s a brief introductory list (presented in no particular order) of informative and readable books about general blues history, styles, and people. From any of these titles you can follow threads to go deeper into specific subjects like regional styles and the lives of influential blues musicians. While brick-and-mortar bookstores that stock blues-related titles are extremely rare these days, all of these can be found online somewhere for purchase:

The Story of the Blues - Paul Oliver

the story of the blues

Oliver is one of the most respected and prolific writers on blues history and this is a very readable overview of the origins and evolution of blues in the 20th century.

Deep Blues - Robert Palmer

deep blues robert palmer

Robert Palmer's book focuses on the Delta-Chicago connection, loaded with fascinating stories and profiles about people and places; very readable.

The History of the Blues - Francis Davis

the history of the blues

A comprehensive overview of the origins and evolution of blues from country to urban.

The Devil’s Music - Giles Oakley

the devil's music giles oakley

A history of blues as both a musical style and a social expression.

The Country Blues - Sam Charters

the country blues

Charters was a key figure in the “blues revival” of the ‘50s and ‘60s and this was one of the first serious efforts to research and document the history of Southern blues.

The Land Where Blues Began - Alan Lomax

the land where blues began

Alan Lomax and his father John made hundreds of field recordings of country blues, prison songs, and other regional styles in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Here he describes his trips through the South, the people he met, and the music they made.

Delta Blues - Ted Gioia

delta blues

Ted Gioia provides an overview of the players and culture of the Mississippi Delta in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

Chasin’ that Devil Music - Gayle Dean Wardlow

chasin that devil music

Wardlow is a well-known Delta blues scholar and record collector; this book focuses on the development of the style in the ‘20s & ‘30s.

Chicago Blues - Mike Rowe

chicago blues

Mike Rowe presents a detailed portrait of blues musicians and style in ‘50s &’60s Chicago.

Urban Blues - Charles Keil

urban blues

This one is part sociology, part music and part biography; the social context of blues as it evolved in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Rollin’ and Tumblin’ - edited by Jas Obrecht

rollin and tumblin

This is a great compilation of interviews with post-war blues guitarists. It includes more information of interest to blues guitar players than most of the other general histories.

Unfortunately, many of the key figures in blues history died without ever being interviewed or captured on film. The good news though is that there's been an enormous amount of research over the past few decades which has helped to fill in missing pieces and bring new facts and perspectives to light.

 

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