• Delta Blues

  • The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music
  • By: Ted Gioia
  • Narrated by: Chris Abernathy
  • Length: 17 hrs and 17 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (41 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The definitive account of how the rough sounds of the Mississippi Delta changed the course of American popular music.

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 ethos: Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, B. B. King, and others. 

Tracing the history of the Delta blues from the field hollers and plantation music of the 19th century to the exploits of modern-day musicians in the Delta tradition, Delta Blues tells the full story of this timeless and unforgettable music. No cultural force boasts such humble origins or such world-conquering reverberations. In this evocative rags-to-riches tale, Gioia shows how the sounds of the Delta altered the course of popular music in America and in the world beyond.

©2008 Ted Gioia (P)2021 Tantor

What listeners say about Delta Blues

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A well-researched history of the blues

Author Ted Gioia describes bluesman James “Son” Thomas as “a man who’d worked as a sharecropper and grave digger, and had survived epilepsy, emphysema, a severe burn injury, and a shooting at the hand of his ex-wife.” In time, however, “he found himself performing on television, in concerts overseas, even at the White House.” Such are the characters that we learn about in this audiobook: artists who, against all odds, managed to turn their difficulties and woes into inspired music.

Legend goes that Robert Johnson made a faustian pact with the Devil and traded his soul for amazing guitar skills. This myth is discussed in detail. What I found more interesting is that blues music carried a certain stigma in the black community and that the guitar itself was regarded by many as a sinful, unholy instrument. Many of the musicians whose lives Gioia explores in the book went back and forth between playing the blues and repentance, with some even going as far as becoming religious preachers.

Some important bluesmen who are covered in the book include, among many others::

- Charlie Patton
- Son House
- Muddy Waters
- Honeyboy Edwards
- John Lee Hooker
- Howlin’ Wolf
- B.B. King
- Lonnie Johnson
- Mississippi John Hurt
- Bukka White
- Skip James
- Otha Turner
- R.L. Burnside
- Junior Kimbrough

Gioia also writes about the likes of John Hammond, Alan Lomax, George Mitchell or guitarist John Fahey, who recorded and documented some of these artists before they became more well known. Some blues musicians, after experiencing a long period of neglect by the public, found their popularity catapulted by white rock musicians who felt indebted to their work and collaborated with them in albums or concert tours. In many other cases, black artists saw their songs appropriated by clever white artists or producers. All these different topics are discussed here.

Here's my main nitpick with the audiobook: Narrator Chris Abernathy speaks very clearly and soberly. But because most of the quotes come from black musicians, having a black narrator with a more expressive voice could have added more character and made the quotes sound more genuine. Abernathy falls a little bit flat in that sense. Otherwise, he's pretty decent.

Nevertheless, it's a very good, well-researched audiobook that should appeal to any blues fan. I enjoyed it.

8 people found this helpful

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Very enjoyable primer to the old country blues.

As always, with Ted Gioia’s books, this is an easy and entertaining read. It is inclusive but not encyclopedic. It goes in depth just enough to be educational but does not lose its steady pace.

Also, many recommendations of the various artist’s works are provided, so it’s easy to make your own Delta Blues playlist on whatever music streaming service you subscribe, too.

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For the Blues Lovers.

Excellent stories, great writing, great narration.

Great for learning where our roots come from. Worth every penny.

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American Blues History

Greatness! Excellent detail and insight. Found myself wishing I could hear each song as it was discussed.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-09-21

If you love blues music, it's a well worth read.

It covers all from the beginning of the delta blues, going through to modern day. Very interesting focus on John Lee hooker muddy waters, howlin wolf, son House

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-07-21

An Exceptional Blues History

An exceptionally well-written and engaging history of the blues, with a fantastic narrator.
Exactly what I had been searching for.
A pleasure for all blues fans.

1 person found this helpful