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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pioneers of the Blues Revival (University of Illinois Press), by Steve Cushing

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Blues is taken for granted nowadays as bedrock of the musical landscape, but in the 1950s scarcely anyone outside of African American communities knew what it was, or thought the blues was anything more than a down day or a flavor in jazz. Radio host Steve Cushing collected some 16 lengthy interviews for Pioneers of the Blues Revival, not with musicians but with white enthusiasts who went looking for the music in the ’50s. Most were record collectors, burrowing through basements and second-hand stores, working with little knowledge, putting the story of the blues together like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces they had to discover. Many of the stories are eye opening. The first wave of British blues buffs lacked access to tape recorders; to hear a rare record could mean traveling by train and boat to Paris to the home of a fellow collector! Some of the people Cushing interviewed, including Sam Charters and Chris Strachwitz, started their own record labels. All played a hand in reviving the careers of Muddy Waters, Skip James and other bluesmen by exposing them to audiences on the international stage.