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The Blues: A Very Short Introduction

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  199 ratings  ·  31 reviews
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, "W
Paperback, 140 pages
Published (first published July 1st 2010)
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Bill Kerwin
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, history, blues

Elijah Wald not only writes well; he is also a knowledgeable and inspired critic of popular music. He never fails to put a genre into the context of the larger musical world, and he is also aware of the cultural influences that give music its significance and form. Wald never makes the mistake of assuming that sound recordings--particularly if they are commercial recordings--adequately reflect a genre's development: the most primitive sounds may not be the oldest, the most popular records may no
Jan 28, 2015 rated it liked it
This one is on the better end of the Oxford series. Enjoyed the final section of the book on blues and American culture.

Best part of the book though was that Wald quotes Charles Colcock Jones. I've literally spent the last five months reading an opus on the rise and fall of that family. Could give you the whole story of that family during the civil war, but I had no idea they would pop up in a conversation about the history of blues music.
Mar 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Great overview of the music genre known as Blues. Like all "Very Short Introduction" books this one is light on personality and heavy on a lot of names all at once but it does a great job explaiing the evolution of the art form.

It helps to have a computer or something nearby so you can type the player's names into YouTube as you read to follow along. It's not required but it sure helped me.
Benjamin Fasching-Gray
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blues, music
Wald follows trails through US music opened up by the broadest definitions of "the Blues" and a healthy disrespect for marketing categories like "folk" and "pop," his vision aided with genuine anti-racism. I thought when I started reading this, come on, tell me something I don't know, and then, what do you know, he did. ...more
Doctor Moss
May 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
This is a fast-paced history of the blues, with special attention to the not-very-sharp boundaries between the blues and other genres.

The book lives up to its billing — “a very short introduction.” But that’s no knock against it. I think it does exactly the job it’s meant to do — read it, and find out what paths you want to go down in greater depth with other resources. And Wald provides some great guidance in his “Further reading” suggestions at the end of the book.

All that said, there’s a lot
Mark Pedigo
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
As the book title says, this is a very short book - you could easily finish it in one or two sittings. Despite the length, though, it’s densely written, at least the history section. One could spend a lifetime chasing down all the artists and strands mentioned in the book.

I thought it was strongest in the section on the history of the music. The story it tells is more or less familiar to music fans, but again, the level of detail is surprising for such a short book. The section on connections t
Stacy Bearse
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Wald positions blues music as the catalyst for more modern American musical forms, including jazz, rock, R&B and rap. His "very short introduction" begins with the contributions of W.C. Handy, moves through the artistry of female singers like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, and looks at the gritty songs of male innovators like Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, B.B. King and many others. It's all here: The Chicago sound. The Memphis, Texas and Piedmont blues. T-Bone Walker's uniq ...more
Brice Fuqua
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brief, but through survey of blues music from the 1920s to the present. Wald makes the point that blues performers were all-around musicians capable of playing music in a variety of styles. It was the record companies who marketed them as blues musicians in order to maximize sales.
The book's chapters on the interconnection of blues and jazz and the influence of blues on country music are particularly incitement.
Recommended for those interested in any form of blues or in roots music in genera
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
He packs a lot into a little space.

I read Wald's book about Dylan at Newport and enjoyed that very much, and found a lot to like in this book, too.

Not just in the history of the blues, but about how different instruments and technologies influenced its development. Why guitars replaced banjos, and how the recording industry was driven by jukeboxes, for example.

It never feels reductionist, or high-brow, either.
Nenad Š
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
A good historical overview of the history of the blues, but with that said very dry at times. I thought I would have enjoyed it more, but still very informative and well constructed for what it is. A generous rating just because I think it could be useful for someone whose getting into the blues and wants to learn about the roots of it.
Norman Styers
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good "short introduction" to its topic. I would have liked more material in the later chapters, but if one's only complaint about a book of this sort is that it's too short, that's a good sign! ...more
Jul 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all readers
Recommended to Brent by: this fine author
Concise, fun, and warm: Wald gets it, makes me want to dive deeper and hear more.
Helped to finish by listening to H. Johnson, dj on and Blues Classics last night: Fridays, here:
Highly recommended.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Made a world I had no idea about appear suddenly.

May 06, 2020 added it
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This short, concise, yet encyclopedic look at the Blues is a must for anyone interested in the history of the Blues and how it has affected other genres of popular music.
Len Zapalowski
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent overview of the music and cultural impact of Blues. Wonderful essays at the end.
Rebecca Martin
Jun 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the first book I've read on a subject dear to my heart (Chicago Blues is my thing, but I expect to be more broadminded before summer's over), so I really don't have anything to compare it to. For my purposes, this book was perfect. It takes a very complicated subject and treats it in a well-organized manner. It's written in straightforward language and sketches the complexities deftly, so that they are easily digested but not, I think, oversimplified. It's illuminating not only on the su ...more
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author does an outstanding job, within the 125-page limit prescribed for Oxford University Press's "Very Short Introduction" series, of presenting a thorough overview of American blues. His history stretches from West African call-and-response traditions up to the present day. Along the way he gives concise but clear and illuminating coverage to:

- The 1920s "blues queens" (notably Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters)
- 1920s-1930s country blues (with separate sections devoted t
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As the title suggests, this book is a great little introduction to the blues. In his earlier book on the genre, Escaping the Delta, Wald made a strong argument that the blues should be considered a popular music form played predominantly by professional musicians, as opposed to widespread popular opinion that placed the blues in the folk music camp. In this survey for a broader audience, Wald wisely sidesteps such bold statements, coming down squarely in the middle of the pop/folk dichotomy. Thi ...more
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wald is one of the most highly regarded music writers on the scene right now, especially in this subject area - and rightfully so. "A Short Introduction" describes the volume well. Read as an ebook, only about 65% of the book is actual writing/content/text. There is a long section in the back, "References" and "Further Reading", both of which are good sources for more on this subject.

The main text is split into 2 sections, and it is the first part that I found the most helpful. He provides a qu
Feb 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Coming in to this with a fair bit of prior research in to the topic I wasn't sure I'd find out anything new, but thankfully I was wrong about that assumption. The number of artists mentioned included many I'd never heard of, and the chapters about the pre-war blues tradition and the blues as a form of poetry were the most illuminating to me. The other chapters, comparing the blues to other musical genres and showing how similar they are was refreshing, as that was something I wrote a paper on fo ...more
Pas de titre trompeur pour ce tout petit tome introductif sur "The Blues".
Vous n'y connaissez rien? Il vous donne une idée des origines, évolutions et dérivations de cette grande musique africaine américaine.
Vous avez quelques notions? Une mine d'artistes, influences, références historiques et migratoires, tendances, parallèles et associations.
Vous êtes calé? Allez, faux pas faire le snob comme ça... Testez-vous!
Une incursion claire et intéressante dans le Blues qui vous donne envie de passer a
Jun 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Writing these kind of intensive but short intros is difficult. Wald handles the task with aplomb and even brings some of his expected contrarian spirit to the deal. There can be no question that he has thoroughly mastered his field. While I do not agree with all of his claims, he is without a doubt my favorite current writer on American popular music in general and on the Blues specifically. Even knowledgeable fans of of The Blues would be rewarded in visiting this short tome.

FWIW, I look forwar
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Blues are not to linger over. To write a blues tome merely indicates your confusion. Wald is the writer for this format; he's got an argument -- that the blues are an idiom, that it's a commercial music, and that for those fetishists like John Fahey for whom something essential was encountered in the so-called "country blues," the blues was never something they could understand in the first place.

Let me recommend Wald's chapter on "Blues Poetry" -- the best work of its kind I've ever read.
Jul 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
A general overview of the blues, with quite a bit of focus on the relationship between the urban jazz movement, the down home country blues, and the borrowing of one another to appeal to a wider audience. Besides the usual suspects like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Slim Harpo, and Son House (my personal favorites) this book reminded me there's a lot more to discover, and how far the blues stretched into American music. ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Wald demonstrates his command of the subject by expanding it just beyond its delta realm. Excellent introduction.
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great little intro to the book. Audiobook version has a great narrator.
Jamie Howison
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
A solid, thoughtful, and very readable introduction... want to know more about this music? Read this book.
Mike Hill
Mar 01, 2016 rated it liked it
A very short introduction to blues. I like to think I know bit about blues. I did learn that RnB was a common name for black pop. That is why it's meaning has changed so. Good read. ...more
Paula Schumm
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I will definitely use this as a reference book. Complete and concise.
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Elijah Wald is a musician and writer, with nine published books. Most are about music (blues, folk, world, and Mexican drug ballads), with one about hitchhiking.
His new book is a revisionist history of popular music, throwing out the usual critical conventions and instead looking at what mainstream pop fans were actually listening and dancing to over the years.
At readings, he also plays guitar an

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