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The Land Where the Blues Began

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  568 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Lomax, who has done more than anyone else to make black music of the South known as a glorious expression of American art, summs up sixty years of "discovering the African American musical heritage in this journey through the Mississippi Delta.
Hardcover, 539 pages
Published May 18th 1993 by Pantheon
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Jan 01, 2011 Mercedes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bless Alan Lomax and his old recorder for capturing the music and oral histories of 30's to 40's Mississippi Delta.
Feb 23, 2008 Anders rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anders by: Sam
Let me just start off by saying that this book is completely obviously a treasure trove of information for people curious about blues lineages or who'd like to learn more about the "discovery" of the now-canonical old blues figures like Son House, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and many more. I say discovery in quotation marks because for the most part, these musicians were already relatively well-known within their own communities, but Alan Lomax was the first to go into all these small, ...more
Oct 04, 2007 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lomax was not a perfect man, but he was a man of his time, and oh, what would we have done without his work?

He might not be a father to the blues so much as a shepherd of it, tending to it by documenting these songs and stories so that we might know the real roots of the blues, before it became just another boutique form for white kids who enjoy expensive guitars. The stories from the levee camps are particularly shocking, as a brutal America dependent on vigilante justice, unspoken codes, and s
Sep 06, 2008 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read, but I can't help but wonder how much dialog between the bluesman Lomax magically created. He spoke to mythical people and apparently could recount word-for-word what each of them said? He makes himself out to be pretty charismatic as well. I didn't question this one as much as I should have when I first read it about 20 years ago. Listen to Son House's Legendary 1969 'Last Sessions' now for a taste of genius.
Jul 05, 2013 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-music
Most books on the subject begin with the blues, give a nod to its origins and then proceed forward through the history of the blues. Lomax tacks somewhat differently. It isn't until you are over 300 pages in that he even discusses a blues artist. This books is about the American music that led to, and culminated in, the blues. It's a study of America and its music before blues even appeared on the scene. To that extent it's a pretty interesting read. The muleskinners who built the Mississippi le ...more
May 08, 2011 Adrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
This is not a quick read and the prose is quite heavy, but it's also a portrait of the American South from someone with an absolutely unique perspective. Lomax had probably 50 or 60 full years of his life that were completely unique to him.

I've long known Lomax's field recordings and imagined what the trips were like to make those recordings. He fleshes a lot of that out but what I didn't know was that he also interviewed the musicians he recorded and from that and his own experience he weaves
Jun 05, 2011 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, blues
I liked this best when Lomax lets the stories flow. I have no idea whether all the stories are precisely true, but they sound authentic. At other times, there is something that annoys me about Lomax's writing. I'm not sure exactly what it is. Perhaps he is just a man from too different a time and place than I am.

By the end of the book, I thought that Lomax thought he was the only white man who could come close to understanding the 'real' blues and that the 'real' blues were diminished whenever t
Jul 15, 2013 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
Alan Lomax's book cover the deep nature, history, sound, and cultural significance of the Delta Blues through interviews with musicians. The importance of his work in interviewing and recording the songs and stories of prisoners, levee camp workers, sharecroppers, roustabouts, muleskinners, and railroad workers can not be under emphasized by anyone who wants to truly understand the nature and impact of the blues. This book is a fascinating piece of deeply meaningful history, and like a strong bl ...more
Feb 02, 2008 Chadwick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who love music, people who care about the South
Recommended to Chadwick by: Meredith
Shelves: music
Not only is this a fascinating account of the roots of the blues, told in the voices of the people that were its living architects, but Alan Lomax's love for his interviewees and his real sympathy for their hard, hard lives rings through on every page. Lomax is personally responsible for saving some of the greatest folk musics of the world from being completely lost, and we owe him immensely for this grand service.
Paul Bryant
Oct 14, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: folk-music
Lomax was a Shakespearean character - a hero with enormous flaws, one of which is his positively gushing purple prose writing style. To be read by American folk roots fans with a degree of caution, and easy access to some of hundreds of hours of sublime music he recorded, because without these constant reminders you may find yourself thinking disgraceful thoughts like "why am I reading a book by this tedious old windbag?"
Liam Guilar
Apr 15, 2014 Liam Guilar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
The book reminds of Seamus Ennis' field diaries, except Lomax is constantly driven to find ways of describing music and occasionally the prose simply takes off. At other times you can feel it failing to get there, as when he tries to describe Son House's voice. It works as travel narrative, evoking the delta, and fixing a time and a place where it was dangerous for a white man with a recorder to be seen talking with "non whites". It's easy to forget that Lomax was risking a great deal in his sea ...more
Anthony Vaver
This book isn't just about the Blues; it is also about race relations. Alan Lomax's stories about how he tracked down and recorded Delta blues artists--and the challenges he faced as a white man while doing so--are fascinating. While Jim Crow in part created these highly talented Delta musicians, it also denied many of them the opportunity to pursue a musical career. By recording their songs, Lomax gives us a unique opportunity to experience in a deep and immediate way the social conditions of t ...more
Jun 07, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book on the Blues and the conditions that spawned them. After almost 50 years of "Affirmative Action" one might think that black people should be better off today than they are. This book outlines just HOW BAD things were in the 30's, 40's, and 50's for blacks. That's NINETEEN 30's, 1940's, and 1950's, not EIGHTEEN 30's, etc., long after slavery, but during the time when Jim Crow ruled. Lomax can get a bit tiresome and wordy, over intellectualizing music that relies so much on pure emotion ...more
Vagabond Geologist
Excellent book. As a blues fan, I've read quite a bit about the genre and I thought I had good understanding of the environment from which the music came but I was wrong. If you like the music, or you want to have a more profound understanding of race relations in the American south after the Civil War, this book is highly recommended. Occasionally Lomax come across as a white, middle-class liberal, and he is certainly a purist when it comes to the music, but I think it's safe to say that this b ...more
Aug 24, 2012 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This is my favourite music history book and an incredibly interesting social history of the Southern United States.
Alan Lomax made one of the most remarkable contributions to folk and oral history in the 20th Century and was undoubtedly responsible for the discovery and rise to prominence of countless blues and folk musicians. This book gives a very rare insight into what life was like for African American musicians in the South; as well as detailing the many difficulties (including threat on t
Gina M Jordan
Nov 27, 2014 Gina M Jordan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This edition came with an extremely short CD which was somewhat disappointing as there was so much content covered, exhaustive in fact, and all of it fascinating to me, that I wish they had used all of the space of the CD for recordings and examples, such as different styles of blues, female blues artists of the time (such as Vera Hall and others). All in all a highly recommended book to BUY and own to refer to again and again, but don't buy the CD version if the cost is higher, it is not worth ...more
Hudd Huddleston
Nov 09, 2007 Hudd Huddleston rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: blues/ history of R&R lovers
colorfull stories of alan lomax's experiences traveling the mississippi delta recording all those blues tunes. i love it cause its all reall stories, of the time lomax recorded blind lemon and muddy waters. a great peice of history. i still have about a hundred pages of this one too. bret, can i borrow it back?
Feb 27, 2013 Erik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, music
A true monument of American cultural history - a must-read, whether or not you have the slightest curiosity for the roots of the blues. Lomax's harrowing tales of the brutally segregated mid-century South are as core to this book as his meandering journey through juke joints, black stringband sessions, and fife-and-drum picnics. A true masterpiece, magnum opus, and national treasure.
ive bought this book soo many times because it's awesome and i inevitably move and forget to recon my books from everyone.
It's slow as hell, but if you like roots music it's a good pal. i know there's also a cd (possibly two) that goes along with it. Great read if you know who charlie patton is. (im a dork.)
Apr 17, 2015 Kurt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm glad I read the book. I'm a fan of all the recordings John and Alan Lomax, but thought the book sorely needed editing and more structure. Check out Lomax's recordings. Read the book, but don't feel bad if you skim some parts.
Jan 04, 2008 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
presenting stories as necessary as the music he recorded, lomax has done us a great service in conceiving of this book, telling the tales of a white man in the black south. he should have left the writing to someone else, though.
Oct 05, 2013 Tessmo rated it really liked it
Great book, but I did not finish because it was hard to read texts of songs without actually hearing it. After 2/3 end extensive searching on internet I gave up, returned it to library and put it back on my to read shelf. Some day...
I've been meaning to really read (as opposed to "dabble in") this one for years.
Oct 29, 2008 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in the blues.
Kelly Ellenburg
Nov 18, 2008 Kelly Ellenburg is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent stories of the Mississippi Delta.
Dani JO
Jun 09, 2013 Dani JO rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Just wasn't my cup of tea.
Chambers Stevens
Jul 24, 2013 Chambers Stevens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Alan Lomax brought traditional music to the masses.
Here is how he did it.
Jan 09, 2017 Phillip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, music
a good study of the blues, where it came from and the lyrical qualities that define the genre.
Carlos Repuestodelatabla
Required reading. Definitive. Revelatory.
Jul 24, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful look at the the people and places that gave birth to the blues.
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