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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010

Talk About the Blues

The Best of the Chicago Annual

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From 1989 through 1995 Lincoln T. Beauchamp, Jr., an African-American musician and writer, published a thick journal called the Original Chicago Blues Annual. OCBA included poetry and fiction but focused on interviews with blues and jazz artists along with cultural essays on the black experience in America.

BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago BluesAnnual (published by University of Illinois Press) is the late periodical’s greatest hits collection. Featured are transcriptions of long interviews with musicians such as Koko Taylor, Big Daddy Kinsey and Lester Bowie and Alligator Records’ founder Bruce Iglauer. Some of their reminiscences are fascinating. Bluesman Pinetop Perkins described how he avoided the draft in World War II (“I ain’t ever knew I had an uncle named Sam”) by driving a tractor on a government-run plantation in Mississippi. Afterward, he worked for a “hoodoo doctor” and recalled a white man who was lynched because he “loved colored people.”

Although the interviews occupy the greatest number of pages, some of the essays are quite good, especially a revealing article on Maxwell Street as an incubator of Chicago blues.

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