Palmer's love of the blues shines through in this exceptional book. He's not interested in showing off his knowledge of the form (although that knowledge is exceptional); he's interested in illuminating for the reader the roots of a great indigenous art form and how that form developed in the 20th century. In that effort, he succeeds masterfully. A fine early section explores how the music that we call the blues was seeded in N. America by African music. That chapter is a mini-history lesson in itself; Palmer shows how the music of slaves from W. Africa was viewed as subversive and dangerous by whites in the new land. The remainder of the book is chock full of portraits of the heroes of early blues in the Mississippi Delta, from Charley Patton to Son House to Robert Johnson to Little Walter to Muddy Waters and beyond. Palmer shows how these men developed a music that grew directly out of the soil of the Delta, making do with the instruments they had and often living itinerant lives, moving from tiny town to tiny town to play dances and juke joints to keep the music alive. The book also describes the historic migration of African-Americans from the Deep South to the industrial cities of the North, most importantly, of course, Chicago, where the musicians transformed the blues again, creating the electrified sounds that exerted such a powerful influence on white rock musicians from London to Liverpool to La Jolla, California. Palmer has given us a great work with "Deep Blues," one that should be read by students of music and social history alike. It deserves a prominent place on the bookshelf of any serious lover of music.
There's no other way to put it, this is simply the best book out there on the blues both as a music form and as force in shaping American culture. At once simple and concise, yet broad and in depth enough to tell a very complete story, this one work should satisfy everyone from the novice to the experienced blues fan. Meticulously researched, Palmer uses Muddy Waters as a jumping off point to explore the history and evolution of the blues as music as well as the society and culture from which it sprang. He peppers his work with amazing anecdotes, from the story of Robert Johnson, the Band meeting a dying Sonny Boy Williamson, an aging Howlin' Wolf giving a phenominal concert that add color to his story and helps make his frequent forays into musicology more tolerable to the non-musician. Best of all is the sense of time and place the book evokes, from plantations and dark swamps in rural Mississippi, to the noisy, crowed streets of South Chicago at the peak of the Great Migration, to small clubs and long forgotten juke-joints. I read this book for the first time 10 years or so ago and have probably reread it 5 times since. I keep coming up with new things to admire about the book every time. That so much richness can be packed into such a short readable work is amazing. This book triumphs over everything else written on the subject and only leaves you wanting to explore further.
As a student of music history for 30 years, I can say I have never read a more enlightening book, with wonderful insight and a true sense of style in every sense of the word. For the reader who wrote to Palmer c/o Rolling Stone and did not receive an answer, you should know that Robert Palmer died in 1997 at the age of 53 awaiting a liver transplant. He never got an organ. When the reader wrote to him, he was already terribly ill, hospitalized down south, and most likely could not respond. I work at the hospital in NY where he died, and I can tell you, if he could have responded, he was the kind of man who would have. We'll all miss him. Makes the plight of organ donation in this country all the more real. Consider all those who could be helped if we all took organ donation more seriously.
Robert Palmer's DEEP BLUES is a great & encyclopedic work on the blues. A resident of New Orleans for the last few years of his life, he was a close neighbor and friend of John Sinclair, poet, d.j., and the original artistic director of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. Both men had similar passions for the blues and all jazz-related music and relocated to the Crescent City for the reason that, in Ernie K-Doe's words, "I'm not sure, but I'm almost certain, that all music came from New Orleans." Palmer relied heavily upon original interviews and interviews conducted by other researchers, and DEEP BLUES reflects a directness and authenticity cross-pollinated by great musical erudition that includes not only the birthplace of the blues, but also its ancestry in Africa. This authenticity inspired another artist whose passion for the gut-level honesty of the blues became part of his own aesthetic. While reading and taking notes from DEEP BLUES, John Sinclair noticed that his jottings took the form of short-lined verses, and that the words of the musicians he loved had the impact of poetry. It was almost as if their words surpassed the poetry of the songs themselves. John fashioned some into poems. Later, upon meeting Palmer, he asked for permission to go further. It's a measure of the generosity of Robert Palmer, his love of the music, and the incredible heart that beats in the passages of DEEP BLUES, that he gave Sinclair the green light. John Sinclair's masterwork, FATTENING FROGS FOR SNAKES: DELTA SOUND SUITE (Surregional Press, 1999) owes its birth to Robert Palmer's own magnum opus.
From the steamy cotton fields of Mississippi, to the mean streets of Chicago and beyond, the history of the blues mirrors that of African American society in the 20th century. Respected music writer, historian, and record producer Robert Palmer traces the history of the music that begat every other form of American popular music in rich detail, blending first-hand accounts, interviews, and historical narrative into a seamless, eminently readable and enjoyable historical work of great importance. This book should be required reading for highschool history students, fans of popular music, and anyone who enjoys engrossing and entertaining non-fiction writing.
I write this from the perspective of someone who lives as far away from the Mississippi delta as you can get - I was born, brought up and live in India. I listened to The Beatles and everything that went after, for years, and thought the blues was boring guitar exhibitionism! I happened across Robert Palmer's book at the local American Center library and to invoke a hoary old cliche - my life was not the same again. It was briliiant, powerful and very revealing. Today, as I listen to the Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson, or the early Muddy Waters, I have Mr. Palmer to thank for showing me the Majesty of the Blues. Thank you!!
I read this wonderful book here in Canberra, Australia's national capital, far far away from the Delta. It was hard to put it down. But I did so just long enough to revisit favourite blues tracks by The Masked Marvel [aka Charley Patton] and Henry [Texas]Thomas...so evocative was Palmer's text that their voices crossed the decades and brought me to tears. Palmer surmounts the tyranny of time and distance and brings the Delta and its music to life for me on the other side of the world. My Road Atlas of the USA is open in front of me...Clarksdale here I come. Phil Teece Canberra Australia
That person took what I was going to say! I agree with everything they said about this book. I've read every book of any substance out there about blues, especially the early country blues, and I find this book to be one if not the most pleasurable of all. It really pulls you in with vivid details and relationships concerning these artists and there importance to each other as a cultural group of musicians working from a common foundation. Robert palmer please write another. How about a biography of R.L burnside as a student of the blues
This book is known as the finest book on blues ever written. I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it as a necessary reading for anyone seriously interested in the blues. A film based on the book came out in 1991 or 1992, but it is impossible to find; it was a documentary produced by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, directed by Robert Mugge, and narrated by Palmer, who also produced the film's soundtrack of Mississippi blues artists. Wish someone would release that on video -- I want a copy!!
Robert Palmer wrote the most colorful stories on the blues I have ever read. The way he describes the way Ike Turner "accidently" discovers distortion/fuzz by having his amps fall off of the top of his station wagon as he is racing across state lines (narrowly outrunning the local law enforcement) in order to catch the last ferry crossing the Mississippi to make it to a second gig, wow! I would have loved to have knocked back a few tall cool ones with this guy!