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Publisher's Summary

Praised as "suave, soulful, ebullient" (Tom Waits) and "a meticulous researcher, a graceful writer, and a committed contrarian" (New York Times Book Review), Elijah Wald is one of the leading popular music critics of his generation. In The Blues, Wald surveys a genre at the heart of American culture.
It is not an easy thing to pin down. As Howlin' Wolf once described it, "When you ain't got no money and can't pay your house rent and can't buy you no food, you've damn sure got the blues." It has been defined by lyrical structure, or as a progression of chords, or as a set of practices reflecting West African "tonal and rhythmic approaches", using a five-note "blues scale". Wald sees blues less as a style than as a broad musical tradition within a constantly evolving pop culture. He traces its roots in work and praise songs, and shows how it was transformed by such professional performers as W. C. Handy, who first popularized the blues a century ago. He follows its evolution from Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith through Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix; identifies the impact of rural field recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, and others; explores the role of blues in the development of both country music and jazz; and looks at the popular rhythm and blues trends of the 1940s and 1950s, from the uptown West Coast style of T-Bone Walker to the "down home" Chicago sound of Muddy Waters. Wald brings the story up to the present, touching on the effects of blues on American poetry, and its connection to modern styles such as rap.
As with all of Oxford's Very Short Introductions, The Blues tells you - with insight, clarity, and wit - everything you need to know to understand this quintessentially American musical genre.
In a hurry? Listen to more Very Short Introductions.
©2010 Elijah Wald (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By mathew on 11-14-17

Great flow and golden nuggets!

Blues was always playing in my house for a long as I can remember. My father constantly talked about it and tried to impress it's importance on me. His lessons went mostly unheeded, or so I thought. This book was absolute fantastic in content, progression and style. The names presented were mostly familiar and I had a grand old time following along with youtube videos of the artists. The Narrator has the perfect voice. Low, cool and when he quotes lyrics, I got the chills. I'm hoping to find more of his narration.
After reading this book I have a new found appreciation and explosion of love for the blues!
Time will tell but this book may have chanced my life. It has certainly helped me see my father in a new, cooler, light!


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5 out of 5 stars
By R. Smith on 01-11-17


This is an excellent audio book. Not only does it trace the history of blues, but it also has a separate history of how blues and jazz are intertwined, and a section on how blues and country music are intertwined. Very well done. I will listen to this again at least once more. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn the history of the blues. Great narration too.

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