Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis: Conversations with the Blues

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Fred J. Hay
University of Georgia Press, Mar 1, 2005 - Music - 312 pages
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Memphis, Tennessee, is a major crossroads for blues musicians, songs, and styles. Memphis is where the blues first "came to town" and established itself as a cosmopolitan performance genre, and the city has long been a center of synthesis and evolution in blues recording. This volume tells the story of the blues in Memphis through previously unpublished interviews with nine performers who helped create and sustain the music from the days before its commercial success through the early 1970s. Their attitudes, experiences, and insights impart a deeper understanding of the blues aesthetic and philosophy.

The performers' backgrounds range across the blues genres, from classic blues (Lillie Mae Glover) to country blues (Bukka White), from jug band blues (Laura Dukes) to tough, postwar electric blues (Joe Willie Wilkins and Houston Stackhouse). Some, like Furry Lewis and Bukka White, are known around the world. Others, like Laura Dukes, are locally popular, while Boose Taylor is virtually unknown. The range of instruments mastered by the musicians--banjo, fiddle, guitar, fife, bass, ukulele, piano, and harmonica--testifies to the many expressive voices of the blues. Some of the interviewees were singing and performing mostly for white blues/folk revivalist audiences by the 1970s; others, such as Joe Willie Wilkins and Houston Stackhouse, continued to perform mostly for black audiences in Memphis and in the small cafes that dotted the Mississippi Delta.

Each interview is illustrated by noted printmaker George D. Davidson and introduced with a biographical sketch by Fred J. Hay. In addition, Hay's extensive notes identify many other blues performers--friends and music partners of the interviewees whose names come up in their many asides and allusions. Together these materials document and pay tribute to the remarkable richness of the Memphis blues scene.

 

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Contents

Blues Really Ringing Around There like Birds Bukka White at the Office
3
I Am the Baby of Beale Street Lillie Mae Glover aka Big Memphis Ma Rainey
27
Come On and Be Fair with a Black Man Tommy Gary Blows His Harp
53
When You Through Talking about Your Brick House Come See Furrys Frame Furry Lewis at Seventythree
77
It Dont Bide a Good Man Well for You to Play Them Things Fiddler Ernest Boose Taylor
113
My Daddy Put Me On Stage When I Was Five Years Old Little Laura Dukes and Her Ukulele
157
Worth a Thousand Dollars a Note Big Amos Patton on the Harmonica
181
Why Dont You Cut Me Up Some Bream There Beer Party at Joe Willie Wilkinss House with Houston Stackhouse and Willis Hillbilly Kenibrew
197
Recommended Listening
241
Bibliography
243
Index
253
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About the author (2005)

Fred J. Hay is a professor of Appalachian studies at Appalachian State University, where he is also librarian of the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection. His books include Documenting Cultural Diversity in the Resurgent American South. George D. Davidson is a musician and self-taught artist who lives in Athens, Georgia. He works primarily in printmaking and with collage shadow boxes.

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