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Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  544 ratings  ·  48 reviews
The blues grew out of the plantations and prisons, the swampy marshes and fertile cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. With original research and keen insights, Ted Gioia—the author of a landmark study of West Coast jazz and the critically acclaimed The History of Jazz—brings to life the stirring music of the Delta, evoking the legendary figures who shaped its sound and ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published October 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company
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Dec 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
"Blues is the roots and everything else is the fruits" -- Willie Dixon
"Blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll" -- Muddy Waters

In this book, Ted Gioia gets to the roots of the roots--the Delta Blues, arguably the greatest influence in music today. Gioia brings to life the old Delta masters from Charley Patton to Son House and Skip James and the legend of Robert Johnson, to those who migrated north and helped influence a new sound--Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and B.B. K
Jul 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If you think Americana means McDonalds, tacky furniture and bad radio, here is the proof that it is something much, much greater. This book encapsulates what is loathsome and what is worthy about America. The huge chunks of racial intolerance, cruelty, and exploitation that make up our history are vast and terrible, and certainly responsible for the roots of blues music -- which is a hard thing to reconcile, because this music is great.

It would be very flippant to think that music appeases the c
robin friedman
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Blues Passion

For many years, the blues of the Mississippi Delta were all but forgotten. With the combination of cross-over or urbanized performances and scholarly interest, the blues have experienced a resurgence. Ted Gioia's new book "Delta Blues: the Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music" (2008) is the most recent work which carefully studies the Delta blues tradition Gioia is a performer and a scholar who began with an interest in jazz. As a young jazz mu
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wonderful journey through the history of the great Mississippi Delta Blues masters, from those born around the turn of the 20th century and gone too early. Tracing the roots of the music pioneers who came to influence later generations of rock superstars from their humble beginnings on plantations and also the work details of Parchman prison. Many of these talented musicians and songwriters had the misfortune to begin their careers in the years leading up to the Great Depression, and while some ...more
Steven Peterson
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a well detailed examination of the rise and evolution of the delta blues. If you want to get a sense of the origins of this musical genre (springing not from the main delta of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, but in the confluence of the Yazoo River and the Mississippi River in the state of Mississippi), this will do nicely.

The book examines where the blues sound came from (a bit thin, but it is tough to reconstruct such matters here), some of the early greats (e.g., Charley Patton, R
Darcia Helle
Nov 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, nonfiction
I found this a fascinating read. Ted Gioia examines the birth of the blues at the start of the twentieth century, and follows some of the major (but often little known) players through their lives. The journey shows us the evolution of the music, as well as the changes in society. Sadly, many of these bluesmen and women did not live long enough to see the tremendous impact they had on what is now our modern music. Nor did most of them ever get the credit they deserved.

Gioia's writing is engagin
May 13, 2010 rated it liked it
This is a good starting point for any blues research, and it has some amazing stories of lives filled with hardship and plain bad luck, some of which are happily followed by heroic third acts of fame and recognition, if not actual fortune.

Gioia helps put the chronology of this musical form that changed the world into perspective. Also, being an accomplished jazz and blues musician himself, Gioia gives a good understanding of the unique musical etymology and accidents that make these feels so ha
Tony Foxhoven
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a really great overview of the Blues. Its something I wasn't really familiar with and before you know it I'm driving around listening to Son House, Robert Johnson and Howlin Wolf. A great intro to the music that birthed rock n roll ...more
Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, music
Ted Gioia's thoughtful book traces the lives and works of American blues musicians from the Mississippi Delta. I've seen John Lee Hooker and B.B. King. Gioia's book puts them in context, at the end of a uniquely American musical movement. I'm familiar with some of the earlier music, but this book provides a framework -- and a study guide -- for an unschooled listener.

Gioia's appreciation for his subject is obvious. I could have done without the final chapter, though. The content doesn't fit with
Aug 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
A terrific overview of the acknowledged masters of the Mississippi Delta blues (Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, and others), some of their less-famous, underappreciated forebears and contemporaries(Willie Brown, Rube Lacy, Tommy McClennan, etc.), and finally members of the next generation who carry the legacy of the Delta blues in their own music, particularly with the Fat Possum record label (North Mississippi All-Stars, Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside).
Gioia admits to being, original
Ted Gioia takes a somewhat dry, academic and definitely hit-and-miss look at a great subject. The title is misleading as two-thirds of the book is about Chicago bluesmen with roots in the Mississippi Delta: Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, et al. The real roots of Delta Blues remain almost as mysterious as the music of the Romans or the Greeks; whereas the Chicago/Chess story is well-documented and often told. Still, how can you go wrong with anecdotes about Robert Johnson (while playing he always ...more
Diann Blakely
Hard-core jazz fans should try spreading their mental and musical wings and reading Gioia's latest, for long- and well-known as a critic of that musical genre, Gioia has seemingly made use not only of his original background, but also of every iota of new material that has come to light in his chapters on the early blues associated with Dockery Plantation and Parchman Prison, as well as those on Son House, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, B. B. King, and t ...more
Sep 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
There's lots of great history in this book, and it's a great, driving read.As he's already proven in his jazz books, Gioia knows music and knows how to write exceptionally well about music.

Gioia did his homework talking to people who've been researching the early-mid 20th century Mississippi Delta inside out for decades, and he surveys pretty much everything that's already been written about delta blues.

I love that the fanatics who went looking for old 78s in the 1950s and 60s are sometimes eve
Dec 11, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
(Non-Fiction Music) My knowledge of blues music is slim to none, so I jumped at the chance to read this book for a class. I really enjoyed Gioia's research and descriptions of people, places, and above all, the music. I certainly have a deep appreciation for the blues now. I really loved his informalities throughout the book, where he suggestively speaks to his readers. Gioia includes a bibliography, a further reading list and a listening list of important blues recordings, so if I want to becom ...more
Robert Morrow
Feb 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
An excellent and thorough overview of the great Delta Blues players, covering their music, influence and personal histories (to the extent possible). The sections on Skip James and Muddy Waters are particularly interesting; the section on Robert Johnson tends to get bogged down in scholarly dispute. The most vivid sections of the book deal with life in The Delta, which consisted of hardships the average American would find difficult to imagine. Ted Gioia is an accomplished scholar of both jazz a ...more
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read for anyone interested in blues and listen to the songs on you tube definitely worth it!!!

I chose this rating because I learned a lot about the Blues and how the Mississippi delta shaped the foundation of music. I only knew about Robert Johnson and had tangentially heard about the other Blues artists. I learned more about the major influencers of BB King, Muddy Waters, Tommy Johnson , Skip James and Howlin Wolf on modern music. Great read. Thank you.
Pamela Montano
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A truly great book about the blues masters from the early 1900's through today. Some had been forgotten until the 1960's when bands like Cream, Canned Heat, Santana and the Rolling Stones shared the stories of their greatest influences and how it shaped their musical journeys. There are tales of Robert Johnson, Son House, W.C. Handy, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, to name a few. This book is well-researched, which was no easy task and it's well-written. ...more
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-music
The third of the basic introductory texts to country blues, and the most coherent and comprehensive of the lot. Gioia's book benefits from the fact that he's a musician and has all the scholarship since the 50's at his disposal. Would have given it five stars if Gioia's writing style/approach wasn't so gosh darn pleasant.

Sucks amazon bought goodreads.
Bill Gordon
Dec 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any music lover!
Lots of fascinating American history in this book. I got lots of ideas for CDs to listen to while reading this one. I'm a huge fan of old country blues recordings and this book enriched my current and future listening experiences. Ted Gioia is an excellent writer. ...more
Dec 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
Tons of detail, clear that the author is really interested in his material, but there was a serious lack of storyline. If I want a litany of dates and names, I can spend a few hours on Wikipedia. This book made me wish that I had taken notes in 76-221.
Anthony Vaver
Jul 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-blues
I discovered Gioia's recommended list of blues songs at the back of the book when I was half-way through it. I wish I had seen the list earlier, so that I could have listened to the songs as I was reading the whole way. ...more
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americana
an impressive overview of delta blues music and its pantheon of stellar musicians. gioia does a masterful job of bringing both the giants of the genre, and the overlooked geniuses of the form, to vivid life on the page.
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This guy can really write!
Mar 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Writer is a bit dry, you have to really like the Blues to stick with this one.
Jeb Buffinton
Mar 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
To play the blues, you've got to live the blues. Or read the book.
Very academic... too academic. Alternating chapters with more lively fiction.
Dec 20, 2010 added it
It was about the blues in the delta of Mississippi. It was really good.
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culture
Great survey of Blues history, and the influence that the Delta tradition has had on modern music.
Kevin Cox
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great scholarly read, well researched.
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic account of the history of the delta blues, some of its key players and it's relevance/influence. Very accessible and easy to read. ...more
Haley Hartley
Oct 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
It was ssssooooo slow and it read more like a 400 page term paper. I couldn't finish it. ...more
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