Book Review: Rock & Roll Books

Ted Gioia

Rock & Roll Books

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

by Ted Gioia
Norton, 448 pp., $27.95

A provocative parallel finds Delta Blues published at roughly the same time as Alan Govenar's Texas Blues, given that the two books stand in opposition on where the blues began. The question isn't difficult for Plano resident Ted Gioia, who finds the genre's roots firmly bound to the plantations and prisons of Mississippi. It's a tough, broad topic and difficult to rein in; the absence of blues giants such as Bo Diddley makes it clear that somewhere in the book's nearly 500 pages, its author made tough decisions about who best illustrated his thesis. A well-known jazz critic and musician, Gioia makes his case with precision, profiling some of the region's best-known brands (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King), as well as lesser-knowns such as Son House and Tommy Johnson. Naturally, the Robert Johnson legend is examined, Gioia weaving together the various accounts with his own thoughtful commentary. Tantalizingly, the author spins the devil-at-the-crossroads story with the rarely celebrated Tommy Johnson dealing down his soul, not Robert. Whether the blues began in Mississippi or not, the sounds of the Delta Gioia writes of lie deep within its foundation.

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