Cover image for Martin Scorsese presents the blues : a musical journey
Martin Scorsese presents the blues : a musical journey
Guralnick, Peter.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Amistad, [2003]

Physical Description:
287 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 21 cm
General Note:
"A companion book to the PBS documentary series Martin Scorsese presents the blues: a musical journey"--Intro.
Added Uniform Title:
Martin Scorsese presents The blues (Television program)
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3521 .M37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML3521 .M37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
ML3521 .M37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
ML3521 .M37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
ML3521 .M37 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Rock & roll, jazz, R&B, hip-hop: Without question, today's most popular sounds owe an incalculable debt to that uniquely American musical creation -- The Blues. But the powerful influence of the blues, with its dramatic, artful storytelling about the elemental experience of being alive, is found in the works of some of our most important literary voices as well.

This volume -- a companion to the groundbreaking seven-part documentary series Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues -- represents a literary sampler every bit as vibrant and original and diverse as the films and music that inspired it. Included in this stunning collection are newly commissioned essays by David Halberstam, Hilton Als, Suzan-Lori Parks, Elmore Leonard, Luc Sante, John Edgar Wideman, and others; timeless archival pieces by the likes of Stanley Booth, Paul Oliver, and Mack McCormick; evocative color illustrations and rare vintage photography; illuminating and in-depth conversations and portraits of musicians, ranging from Robert Johnson and Bessie Smith to John Lee Hooker and Eric Clapton; lyrics of legendary blues compositions; personal essays by the series directors Martin Scorsese, Charles Burnett, Richard Pearce, Wim Wenders, Marc Levin, Mike Figgis, and Clint Eastwood; and excerpts from such literary masters as James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and William Faulkner.

The result is a unique and timeless celebration of the blues, from writers and artists as esteemed and revered as the music that moved them. In these pages one not only reads about the blues, one hears them, feels them, lives them. Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues is more than a timeless collection of great writing to be savored and shared: it is an unforgettable initiation into the very essence of American music and culture.



Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey A Century of the Blues 1903. The place: Tutwiler, a tiny town in the Mississippi Delta, halfway between Greenwood and Clarksdale. It is dusk, and the sky is rich in summer color. The slight breeze, when it visits, is warm and wet with humidity. William Christopher Handy, better known by his initials, W.C., waits on the wooden platform for a train heading north. Handy, the recently departed bandleader for Mahara's Minstrels, a black orchestra that mostly plays dance music and popular standards of the day, is a learned musician who understands theory and the conventions of good, respectable music. He had joined the Minstrels as a cornet player when he was twenty-two years old and traveled widely with them: the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Cuba. In time, he became their band director. Now, some seven years later, here he is, fresh from agreeing to lead the black Clarksdale band Knights of Pythias. The train is late, so Handy does the only thing he can do: He waits patiently, trying to stay cool, passing the time with idle thoughts, and scanning the scenery for anything that might prove the least bit interesting. Finally succumbing to boredom, Handy dozes off, only to be awakened by the arrival of another man who sits down nearby and begins to play the guitar. His clothes tattered and his shoes beyond worn, the man is a sad specimen, especially compared to Handy, whose clothes bespeak a black sophistication not often seen in these parts. The man plays and Handy listens, growing increasingly interested in the informal performance. Handy, of course, has heard many people, black and white, play guitar before, but not the way this man plays it. He doesn't finger the strings normally; instead, he presses a pocketknife against them, sliding it up and down to create a slinky sound, something akin to what Hawaiian guitarists get when they press a steel bar to the strings. But it isn't just the unusual manner in which the poor black man plays his guitar. What he sings, and how he sings it, is equally compelling. "Goin' where the Southern cross the Dog": Most people around these parts know that "the Southern" is a railroad reference, and that "the Dog" is short for "Yellow Dog," local slang for the Yazoo Delta line. The man is singing about where the Southern line and the Yazoo Delta line intersect, at a place called Moorhead. But something about the way the man practically moans it for added emphasis, repeating it three times, strikes Handy hard; the combination of sliding guitar, wailing voice, repeated lyrics, and the man's emotional honesty is incredibly powerful. Handy doesn't realize it yet, but this moment is an important one in his life, and an important one in the history of American music as well. The description of this incident, written about by Handy thirty-eight years later in his autobiography, is one of the earliest detailed descriptions of the blues ever written by a black man. Handy called his book Father of the Blues . It's a good title for a book -- but not, strictly speaking, an accurate one. What Handy did on that railroad platform in Mississippi a century ago was witness the blues, not give birth to it. But there's no disputing that he was forever after a changed man. "The effect was unforgettable," he wrote. Even so, he found it hard to bring the blues into his own musical vocabulary. Wrote Handy: "As a director of many respectable, conventional bands, it was not easy for me to concede that a simple slow-drag-and-repeat could be rhythm itself. Neither was I ready to believe that this was just what the public wanted." But later, during a Cleveland, Mississippi, performance, Handy's band was outshone -- and outpaid -- by a local trio playing blues similar to what he heard in Tutwiler. Shortly thereafter, Handy became a believer. "Those country black boys at Cleveland had taught me something ... My idea of what constitutes music was changed by the sight of that silver money cascading around the splay feet of a Mississippi string band," wrote Handy. In 1909 Handy penned a political campaign song, "Mr. Crump," for the Memphis mayor. He later changed the title to "The Memphis Blues" and published it in 1912. The song was a hit. Entrepreneurially savvy, Handy delved deeper into the music, following it with "The St. Louis Blues," "Joe Turner Blues," "The Hesitating Blues," "Yellow Dog Blues," "Beale Street," and other blues and blues-based compositions. Their commercial success made Handy well-off but, more importantly, solidified the idea that the blues could exist in mainstream music settings, beyond black folk culture. The blues had arrived, thanks to W.C. Handy. American music would never be the same. ♦ ♦ ♦ No one really knows for certain when or where the blues was born. But by the time of Handy's initial success with the music in 1912, it's safe to say it had been a viable black folk-music form in the South for at least two decades. With a couple exceptions, ethnomusicologists didn't become interested in the blues until later, thus missing prime opportunities to document the origins of the music and to record its pioneers. Still, there are enough clues to indicate that the blues most likely came out of the Mississippi Delta in the late nineteenth century. Like all music forms -- folk, pop, or classical -- the blues evolved, rather than being born suddenly. So to understand the origins of the blues, you need to take a look at what came before it. You need to go back to the early part of the seventeenth century, when African slaves were first brought to the New World. Europeans involved in the slave trade stripped as much culture from their human cargo as possible before their arrival in the New World. But music was so embedded in the day-to-day existence of the African men and women caught in this horrific business that it was impossible to tear their songs from their souls ... Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey . Copyright © by Peter Guralnick. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey by Holly George-Warren, Robert Santelli, Peter Guralnick All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Martin ScorseseAlex GibneyChristopher John FarleyPeter GuralnickRobert SantelliW.C. HandyPaul Laurence DunbarRobert JohnsonLangston HughesLou Willie TurnerRobert Pete WilliamsMartin ScorseseChristopher John FarleyRobert JohnsonLuc SanteAlan LomaxRobert GordonJohn Edgar WidemanElmore LeonardGreg TateRobert PalmerChristopher John FarleyCatherine NedonchelleCharles BurnettChristopher John FarleySterling BrownCarl Van VechtenHilton AlsJeff Todd TitonJames MarshallJohnny ShinesRalph EllisonDavid "Honeyboy" Edwards and Janis Martinson and Michael Robert FrankWilliam FaulknerJames BaldwinW.E.B. Du BoisJulian BondRichard PearceStanley BoothWill Shade and Paul OliverRobert GordonPercy MayfieldDavid HalberstamRobert PalmerWim WendersChristopher John FarleyBob DylanSamuel ChartersMack McCormickZora Neale HurstonJohn SzwedJohn Lee Hooker and Paul OliverMare LevinPeter WolfRobert PalmerChristopher John FarleyLangston HughesStuds Terkel and Jeff ScheftelSamuel ChartersWillie Dixon and Don SnowdonTourePaul TrynkaMichael Bloomfield and S. SummervillePaul TrynkaPaul OscherSuzan-Lori ParksMike FiggisPeter GuralnickChristopher John FarleyVal WilmerStanley BoothRichard HellClint EastwoodChristopher John FarleyOtis Spann and Paul OliverEudora WeltyMichael LydonJerry WexlerJohn SwensonAnthony DeCurtisDavid RitzChuck DHolly George-Warren
Prefacep. 6
Forewordp. 8
Writing About the Blues: The Processp. 9
An Introductory Notep. 10
A Century of the Bluesp. 12
"The St. Louis Blues"p. 15
"We Wear the Mask"p. 18
"Stones in My Passway"p. 28
"Dream Boogie"p. 30
"You Know I Love You"p. 38
"Prisoner's Talking Blues"p. 47
Feel Like Going Homep. 60
Son House: Saturday Night and Sunday Morningp. 67
"Hellhound on My Trail"p. 71
The Blues Avant-Gardep. 74
The Levee-Camp Hollerp. 76
Muddy Waters: August 31, 1941p. 79
A Riff on Reading Sterling Plumpp's Poetryp. 81
Thank God for Robert Johnsonp. 84
Howlin' Wolfp. 86
Jim Dickinson and His Son Luther on Coming of Age in the North Mississippi Hill Countryp. 87
Why I Wear My Mojo Handp. 91
Ali Farka Toure: Sound Travelsp. 92
French Talking Bluesp. 96
Warming by the Devil's Firep. 98
Bessie Smith: Who Killed the Empress?p. 104
"Ma Rainey"p. 106
A Night With Bessie Smithp. 112
Billie Holidayp. 114
Early Downhome Blues Recordingsp. 116
Let's Get Drunk and Truck: A Guide to the Party Bluesp. 119
Remembering Robert Johnsonp. 123
The Devil's Son-in-Lawp. 126
Hoboing With Big Joep. 129
The Little Churchp. 132
Down at the Crossp. 133
Redemption Songp. 135
"I (Too) Hear America Singing"p. 135
The Road to Memphisp. 136
Furry's Bluesp. 140
Recalling Beale Street in Its Gloryp. 144
Bobby "Blue" Bland: Love Throat of the Bluesp. 146
"The River's Invitation"p. 148
On the Road with Louis Armstrongp. 150
Sam Phillips on Gutbucket Bluesp. 152
Wolf Live in '65p. 153
The Soul of a Manp. 154
Visionary Blindness: Blind Lemon Jefferson and Other Vision-Impaired Bluesmenp. 165
"Blind Willie McTell"p. 167
Locating Lightnin'p. 171
Henry Thomas: Our Deepest Look at the Rootsp. 172
Janie and Tea Cakep. 174
Photographer Peter Amft on J.B. Lenoirp. 176
Driving Mr. Jamesp. 178
Clifford Antone on Livin' and Lovin' the Bluesp. 180
Jimmie Vaughan on Being Born into the Bluesp. 182
Somethin' That Reach Back in Your Lifep. 183
Goofathers and Sonsp. 184
Muddy, Wolf, and Me: Adventures in the Blues Tradep. 188
Chicago Pepp. 194
Memphis Minnie and the Cutting Contestp. 198
Happy New Year! With Memphis Minniep. 202
Big Bill and Studs: A Friendship for the Agesp. 204
Chicago Blues, Sixties Stylep. 206
Getting a Hit Blues Recordp. 208
And It's Deep, Toop. 211
Between Muddy and the Wolf: Guitarist Hubert Sumlinp. 213
Me and Big Joep. 216
Photographer Peter Amft on Chicago Bluesmenp. 220
Buddy Guy Arrives in Chicagop. 222
The Giftp. 223
How I Met My Husbandp. 226
Red, White and Bluesp. 228
A Conversation With Eric Claptonp. 234
Big Bill Broonzy: Key to the Highwayp. 239
The First Time I Met the Bluesp. 243
The Rolling Stones Come Togetherp. 245
My Blues Band: The Rolling Stonesp. 247
Piano Blues and Beyondp. 250
Our Ladies of the Keys: Blues and Gonep. 253
On Learning to Play the Bluesp. 257
Powerhousep. 258
Ray Charles Discovers the Pianop. 260
Finding Professor Longhairp. 262
Dr. John and Joel Dorn on New Orleans Piano Stylesp. 263
Marcia Ball on Big Easy Bluesp. 267
Chris Thomas King's Twenty-First-Century Bluesp. 268
Shemekia Copeland on Her Melting-Pot Bluesp. 270
My Journey to the Bluesp. 271
The Blues Is the Bloodp. 276
Blues: The Footprints of Popular Musicp. 280
Acknowledgmentsp. 282
Attributions and Sourcesp. 283
Contributorsp. 286
Photo Creditsp. 287