Essential Rock Reads – Exposing the myths – the USA and The Blues

Two books in one post this time – the first “More Miles Than Money” by Garth Cartwright is an account of his travels through the continent looking for the real thing – music made for more than just profit and commerce. Along the way he mingles with many of the “real-deal” hispanic, afro-american and general minority music makers, fascinating individuals of all ages, from (hard to find) back street juke-joints and clubs located in the seedier, edgier parts of town. His findings suggest the music is still there at the roots level, some labels are still releasing these by now minority musics, but the practitioners are dwindling, dying off – leaving sadly the corporate in the ascendancy.
Splendidly written, Cartwright’s Kiwi origins seem to protect him from the worst treatment the USA can mete out to it’s own citizens, but there are still some perilous moments on his journey! An excellent and thought provoking read.

Mentioned in the footnotes of the book is Elijah Wald – author of “Escaping the Delta” -my second choice for this post. A lengthy but always readable analysis of the myths surrounding the classic “Blues” artists, Wald goes to great lengths to study, analyse, deconstruct and generally dismantle many of the “facts” we take as read. The book hangs on the one blues artist we all now associate with the greatest of the myths, Robert Johnson and the meeting at the crossroads. Wald quietly and methodically studies the music as a whole, shows where certain tropes originated and follows them throughout the musics of the blue greats, including the lesser known (in his own homeland and era) Johnson. Turns out most “blues” artists were all-rounders who are now classified as bluesmen (and women) because that was the only aspect of their repertoires that was recorded by the entrepreneurs of the time – as “the Blues” was deemed most commercial.
A fascinating and enlightening read, and Wald has the benefit of being an excellent musician himself, so really gets to grips with the technicalities of his subject matter.

Both books highly recommended for fans of American roots music.

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