Marybeth Hamilton

Books Reviews Marybeth Hamilton
Marybeth Hamilton

Hellhound on the trail

Is the Mississippi Delta really the birthplace of the blues? Forgive the heresy, but maybe not.

Marybeth Hamilton suggests that the Delta’s enshrinement as the Eden of the blues is actually a piece of mythmaking that was perpetuated by a few obsessive blues-record collectors who lived in New York City in the 1950s. These white boys comprised a Blues Ma?a that feverishly championed the recordings of a few previously obscure bluesmen (notably Charley Patton and Robert Johnson) who hailed from the Delta.

Musicians in other cradles—Storyville, W.C. Handy’s parlor—failed to ?re the romantic imagination like the avatar conjured by these critics, the hell-haunted, ferociously talented, unbowed, vagabond black bluesman striding alone over the wide, ?at Delta. This image took root in the American mind, and then leaped the Atlantic, landing on the turntables of kids named Richards and Jagger and Clapton and Page.

Hamilton offers a book worthy of consideration and debate, a well-written and researched inspection of blues, bluesmen, and American mythmaking.

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