Welcome to Blues Talk! In this pioneering series of lectures, one for each bar of a 12-bar blues, Im going to introduce you to the blues--but with a difference.
Instead of offering you glib generalities couched in blithe (or irritable) absolutisms, Im going to do my best to undercut every myth that has attached itself to the music over the years. Instead of a dry, documentarian, history of the blues approach, Im going to take you deep inside the minds, hearts, and souls of the musics creators, recreating the sociohistorical and aesthetic horizons that confronted them as they sought to leave their mark on the world. Whenever possible, Im going to ground my claims in what the musicians themselves have had to say.
The blues tradition isnt just about the music. Its about powerful and often conflicted feelings that circulate within the music, sourcing it decisively (many have argued) in the historical struggles of African Americans to achieve full personhood on American soil. Its about the blues ethos, a philosophical orientation towards life that shows up at many points in the music and culture. Its about a whole range of ideas--including mistaken ideas--that have swirled around the music, and about a world of poems, plays, novels, and autobiographies that have emerged along with the music.
As a blues harmonica player with three decades of performing experience and an associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, Ive been teaching undergraduate and graduate classes in the blues tradition--music, culture, and literature--for almost 15 years. Ive written three award-winning books on the blues. Many of my insights are drawn from my 25-year partnership with Sterling Mr. Satan Magee, a Mississippi-born bluesman with whom I busked the sidewalks of Harlem back in the late 1980s and worked the club and festival circuit for almost a decade after that. The talk I talk comes from the walk Ive walked.
Some people would prefer to keep ideas--all ideas--away from the blues. They think of blues music as a gritty, earthy pastoral retreat: a blues cruise of sorts, filled with booze, BBQ, and butt-rockin grooves where good fellowship prevails, guitars and harps (and amps and mics) rule the day, and the complexities of postmodern life fall away. Above all, theyd prefer that all talk of race, of black and white in the blues, be stifled preemptively, unless it be cliches such as No black, no white, just the blues or Shut up and boogie.
Thats one way of using the blues, and it isnt illegitimate. It deserves its own space in the conversation. (In fact, I probe the meaning of that just the blues saying in my first Blues Talk.) But if comforting bromides and humorous anecdotes about famous bluesmen is all youre after, Blues Talk is not for you.
Blues Talk is for people who care passionately about understanding the music and unpacking its source code, not just taking a fans pleasure from it.
Blues Talk is oriented, without apology, towards serious students of the music and the culture out of which the music emerged. Blues Talk is for people who want to use their minds as well as their ears to deepen their appreciation of an art form that is arguably one of Americas greatest gifts to the world.
Blues Talk neither condescends nor obfuscates. Instead, it seeks to excite you, entrance you, and liberate your mind by guiding you through the process of thinking critically about the blues.
A great deal of scholarship on the blues has accumulated in the past 50 years, even as the blues has been transformed from a Deep South folk music into a worldwide phenomenon, and yet most of this scholarship remains unknown outside the academy, even to serious fans of the music. Blues Talk seeks to remedy this lack by walking the academic conversation back in the direction of everyday language.
Blues Talk will introduce you to blues theorists such as Kalamu ya Salaam, Elijah Wald, James Cone, Angela Y. Davis, Steven C. Tracy, Larry Neal, and Jon Michael Spencer, along with foundational figures of the blues literary tradition such W. C. Handy, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston. If those last three names arent as familiar to you as B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and Bessie Smith, they should be. Blues Talk will make sure you never forget them.
Included in this BIG zip file are 12 audio lectures of roughly 60 minutes each, in high-quality mp3 form. Also included is a read me first! .doc. Thats TWELVE HOURS of wide-ranging, informative commentary on the blues!
Perfect for long walks or drives. Transform your daily commute into an eye-opening (and ear-opening) seminar.
The numbered lectures cover the following topics:
Blues Talk 1: starting the conversation
Blues Talk 2: blues conditions
Blues Talk 3: bluesmen, folkloric melancholy, and blues feelings
Blues Talk 4: blues expressiveness and the blues ethos
Blues Talk 5: W.C. Handy and the birth of the blues
Blues Talk 6: Langston Hughes and early blues poetry
Blues Talk 7: Zora Neale Hurston and southern blues culture
Blues Talk 8: the devil and the blues, Part I
Blues Talk 9: the devil and the blues, Part II
Blues Talk 10: blues form, portraiture, and power
Blues Talk 11: the blues revival and the Black Arts movement
Blues Talk 12: blues and the postmodern condition
Another Modern Blues Harmonica production.