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Barnes & Noble.com: Since the very beginning of your career as a musician, you've been involved in blues-based music. Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey must have been a very meaningful project for you.
Bill Wyman: It has been one of the most interesting projects I have ever undertaken. My passion for the blues has continued to grow since I first became interested in the early '60s. To begin with my Blues Odyssey was more like a small trip, as I found out about men like Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker. From them I went backward, tracing the roots of the music to the wonderful prewar performers like Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell, Tampa Red, and Robert Johnson.
B&N.com: How did you get the initial idea for the book?
BW: My first idea was to make a radio series. This evolved into a TV series, which is being aired on Bravo on November 1, 2001 in America. Dorling Kindersley was involved in making the TV shows, and it seemed natural to collaborate on a book. It also enabled me to include so much more about the blues than I could in two hours of TV.
B&N.com: In Blues Odyssey, you trace the blues back to its origins on the slave plantations and then go on to describe how it developed in the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, Chicago, and St. Louis. I'm curious about the research you did for the book -- did it involve travel to the south and to the cities that figured so prominently in the music's history?
BW: Touring America with the Stones for so many years gave me the opportunity to visit lots of different cities. On our first tour in 1964 I was amazed to go into a bar in San Antonio and find Jimmy Reed records on the jukebox. Three days later we were at Chess studios in Chicago recording, and we met Buddy Guy. The following day Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters were at the studio. Between then and now there were opportunities to visit different places and talk with a wide variety of blues musicians. All of them have added their input to the making of Blues Odyssey.
B&N.com: Is there a particular moment from your travels that stands out as a symbolic or powerful encounter with the history or spirit of blues music?
BW: It's difficult to choose one moment, or one person. Meeting and recording with Howlin' Wolf in London and then visiting his home shortly before he died were very special moments. Wolf's connection back to Charley Patton and the greats of prewar Delta blues meant that he had a certain purity of the blues. Likewise, meeting Muddy and later playing with him at Montreux in 1974 was a fantastic experience. Another great time was when I met Furry Lewis in Memphis in 1975, while on tour with the Stones. We arrived onboard our aircraft in the middle of the night, and there was Furry at the bottom of the aircraft steps sitting on some whiskey crates playing the blues -- it was pretty special.
B&N.com: Did the process of researching the book -- especially as you visited the sites of blues history -- bring you to a new understanding of your own connection to the blues?
BW: Of course, you learn from everywhere you visit, you get something of the feeling of a place. In turn you can understand a little of what it meant to live in such a place. But in truth it is difficult to fully appreciate what people's lives were like when you are staying in luxury hotels. I think I understood more from listening to the music, listening to what they sang about, and the things that affected their everyday lives. My own upbringing was tough, and so perhaps I had something of a connection through that, albeit without the misery of segregation.
B&N.com: Your extensive collection of blues memorabilia plays a major role in the book and is a fascinating offshoot of your involvement with the music. How long have you been a collector? What would you consider your most cherished collectible?
BW: I have been a collector all my life; as a kid I even sold my stamp collection to get enough money to buy a wind-up 78rpm gramophone. I have collected blues records since the early '60s and now have thousands of LPs and CDs. They give me fantastic pleasure, and they have also inspired me to record some songs from the 1930s and '40s with my band, The Rhythm Kings. It is difficult to single out one item, but I have some pictures of Howlin' Wolf and myself at his house shortly before he died that I treasure, and perhaps most of all are the wonderful memories.
B&N.com: What was it like in the late '50s/early '60s as British musicians began to discover the raw energy of the blues through the music of legends such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters?
BW: They were fantastically exciting times. It was not like today, when everything that happens anywhere in the world in instantly on our TV screens. Back then, if you had an interest in something you really had to search things out. When I first discovered Chuck Berry in the 1950s I had to write off to record stores in Chicago to try and buy the records, because you couldn't buy them in Britain. People used to swap their records or lend them to friends so that they could hear what was new and exciting. I had a group before I joined the Stones called the Cliftons; we used to listen to records over and over again in order to learn them.
B&N.com: What message do you want readers to walk away with after reading the Blues Odyssey?
BW: I am not sure there is a message, other than the fact that this is such wonderful music. It's music that is real, that has substance and meaning. I would like to think that people would seek out the music of the blues greats and listen to the original versions of what have become "standards" today. I would like to think that when people read the book that they have a little more understanding of the context in which this music was written, and performed. The great thing about the blues is that it is real music played by real people on real instruments, there is not a computer in sight. So perhaps another message is that we should all be a little more interested in the roots of our music.
Posted November 7, 2004
This outstanding book by Bill Wyman provides an insightful and sensitive history of the blues. The book follows the birth and evolution of the blues, from plantation slavery and life in the Mississippi Delta, and elsewhere in the deep south, through the wartime urban migration to the cities of Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit. 'Blues Odyssey' also documents very well the role of the record companies, and how they served the evolving popularity of blues music. I was impressed with the outstanding photos and the informative 'Blues Greats' profile pages. Bottom Line: For anyone interested in the blues and music in general, 'Blues Odyssey' is informative and entertaining.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.