Land Where the Blues Began


A self-described “song-hunter,” the folklorist Alan Lomax traveled the Mississippi Delta in the 1930’s and ‘40s, armed with primitive recording equipment and a keen love of the Delta’s music heritage. Crisscrossing the towns and hamlets where the blues began, Lomax gave voice to such greats as Leadbelly, Fred MacDowell, Muddy Waters, and many others, all of whom made their debut recordings with him.

The Land Where the Blues Began is Lomax’s “stingingly well-written ...

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A self-described “song-hunter,” the folklorist Alan Lomax traveled the Mississippi Delta in the 1930’s and ‘40s, armed with primitive recording equipment and a keen love of the Delta’s music heritage. Crisscrossing the towns and hamlets where the blues began, Lomax gave voice to such greats as Leadbelly, Fred MacDowell, Muddy Waters, and many others, all of whom made their debut recordings with him.

The Land Where the Blues Began is Lomax’s “stingingly well-written cornbread-and-moonshine odyssey” (Kirkus Reviews) through America’s musical heartland. Through candid conversations with bluesmen and vivid, firsthand accounts of the landscape where their music was born, Lomax’s “discerning reconstructions . . . give life to a domain most of us can never know . . . one that summons us with an oddly familiar sensation of reverence and dread” (The New York Times Book Review). The Land Where the Blues Began captures the irrepressible energy of soul of people who changed American musical history.

Winner of the 1993 National Critics Circle Award for nonfiction, The Land Where the Blues Began is now available in a handsome new paperback edition.

Winner of the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction, this mususical and cultural exploration of the rich, sorrow-laden birth of the blues is an intimate and respectful look at an integral part of African American culture--a master work that has been 60 years in the making. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Without Lomax it’s possible that there would have been no blues explosion, no R&B movement, no Beatles and no Stones and no Velvet Underground.”
—Brian Eno

“No one has come close to Alan Lomax in illuminating the intersecting musical roots of an extraordinary range of cultures, including our own.”
—Nat Hentoff

“If not for Lomax, few people would have heard ‘Tom Dooley’ or ‘Goodnight Irene’ and Bob Zimmerman might be singing ‘Feelings’ at Holiday Inns around Hibbing, Minnesota.”

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Working for the Library of Congress and other cultural institutions, legendary roots-music connoisseur Lomax Mister Jelly Roll visited the Mississippi Delta with his father, folklorist John Lomax, and black folklorist Zora Neale Hurston in the 1930s; with African American sociologists from Fiske University in the 1940s; and with a PBS film crew in the 1980s, researching the history of the blues in America. Addressing this wonderfully rich vein of scarcely acknowledged Americana, Lomax has written a marvelous appreciation of a region, its people and their music. Burdened early with now long-forgotten technology 500-pound recording machines, etc. and encountering pronounced racial biases and cultural suspicions about black and white people mixing socially and otherwise, Lomax sought out those in the Delta who knew Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton and others acquainted with musicians once less well known, such as Doc Reese, young McKinley Morganfield Muddy Waters, Dave Edwards, Eugene Powell and Sam Chatmon. Traveling across the South ``from the Brazos bottoms of Texas to the tidewater country of Virginia,'' Lomax discovers the plantations, levee camps, prisons and railroad yards where the men and women of the blues came from and the music was born. In a memoir that will take its place as an American classic, Lomax records not just his recollections but the voices of hard-working, frequently hard-drinking, spiritual people that otherwise might have been lost to readers. Apr.
Kirkus Reviews
Singingly well-written cornbread-and-moonshine odyssey of folk-archivist Lomax's second swing through the Mississippi Delta in search of seminal blues songs and players, this time during early WW II. In 1942, Lomax (Mister Jelly Roll, 1959, etc.)—who with his father, John Lomax, has by that date already discovered Leadbelly and introduced Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie to radio audiences—is empowered by the Library of Congress to use a new acetate recording device to gather discs made on the spot with blues singers in the Delta, where the blues were born. Lomax considers the blues as noble as Shakespeare and the greatest art form yet produced by America, and anyone who reads the many heartsick lyrics he reprints here may agree with him. His first stop is Memphis, where he records Willie B. and son House and picks up background on "Little Robert" Johnson. Moving on to Clarksdale, Mississippi, he's at once in trouble with law and is told not to address "Negroes" as "mister" or "miss" and never to shake a black hand. What's more, blacks have now reversed Jim Crow and have their own "Coloreds Only" shops and bars where whites aren't allowed. Blacks are heading north by the trainload; black draftees sullenly await conscription and shipment overseas; deep night has settled on the songsters. White-hatred embitters Lomax in a way it never has during his earlier song-recording trips in the South. Just as bad, he discovers that educated black preachers now bury spirituals under pale, four-square gospel pieces with written-out harmonies, a sentimental dilution that replaces the heroic spiritual with agonizing "I am tired, I am weak, I am worn" choirings. Bios follow, as well as talks withblues men Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, and other songsters and guitar giants. A summa musicologia whose sobering humanity and thoughts about an American voice echo Whitman. The devil's own music gets its due. (Photos—16 pp. b&w—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565847392
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: BOOK
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 447,888
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Lomax is an ethnomusicologist, record producer, and network radio host/writer. His work includes the prize-winning 1990 PBS television series American Patchwork and the multimedia interactive database called the The Global Jukebox, which he produced as an anthropologist for Columbia University and Hunter College.
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