Journeyman's Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner's Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York

By Lawson, R. A. "Stovetop" | Southern Quarterly, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview
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Journeyman's Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner's Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York


Lawson, R. A. "Stovetop", Southern Quarterly


Journeyman's Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner's Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York. By Adam Gussow. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007. 188pp. Cloth: $30.00, ISBN: 978-1572335691.)

Adam Gussow, street and festival veteran of the blues harmonica and rising scholarly author who brought us seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition, now offers Journeyman s Road- a varied set of twenty-six essays, the majority of which are reprinted from his column in the quarterly Blues Access from 1995 to 2001. It is a new kind of book on the shelf of blues writings, particularly because Gussow writes with twelve years' worth of experience playing and touring as one half of the duo, Satan and Adam, paired with Mississippi-bom guitarist Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee.

In this respect, Gussow is dissimilar from the most prominent blues authors of the past such as Alan Lomax and Paul Oliver. Despite Gussow's street-blues background, he, like those earlier authors, adheres to contemporary intellectual trends. For Gussow, that means post-modem relativism: "an underlying premise of Journeyman s Road is that the blues are relentlessly dialectical, foiling any attempt we make to crystallize their tmths into one incontrovertible statement." He shows, however, that this relativism is not imposed by ivory towers to meet scholarly fads, but is actually organic to the blues: "this curious and under-remarked quality has something to do with the freedom-needs and trickster-sensibilities of the music's African American originators - a refusal to be either nameless or wholly known; a refusal to be held in place, defined downward by slander, quietly mbbed out" (xiv).

Though Gussow's overall framework remains loyal to academic relativism, his performing experience shapes his writer's voice, which is loose and groovy; for instance, Gussow reminds us that "serious drinking takes a lot of planning" and we should "take a 'blues name' and make sure everybody knows it" (32, 103). Furthermore, he divides the essays into two parts, experiential and instructional - "Walking the Walk" and "Talking the Talk" - showing his willingness to relish in the lingo and mindset of blues culture. Gussow's many nights on the stage and his academic career allow him to be both inside and above his subject, and to weave those two perspectives together throughout his essays, as evidenced beautifully in the "Talking the Talk" section. In "Sitting In," a "practical guide to making the transition from the safety of the woodshed to the potentially catastrophic visibility of the stage," Gussow wams that, "there are many ways to blow it," and he's not talking about the harmonica (xvi, 93). Likewise, in "Making Your Big Move: The Devil's Guide to Jam Session Etiquette," Gussow answers the question, "So you want to be a twenty-first century bluesman or blueswoman?" Evidently, if you follow his advice, you will have "too much money to accumulate, too much good sex to enjoy with your groupies, and no time to waste" listening to purists who inevitably "will sneer, as they have always sneered" that you are not playing the real blues (101).

In Seems Like Murder Here, Gussow surprisingly omitted the sound of blues music, though he was so adroit in conjuring the imagery of the blues world. That oversight has been corrected in Journeyman's Road. In the book's first offering, "Winter Blues," the joumal-like account of his days and nights on the road with Mr. Satan and his unpredictable and troublesome wife, Miss Macie, Gussow gets us right into the sounds of the juke with rich descriptions: "Those aren't blue notes [Mr. Satan's] playing; those are purple-green insinuations, indigo overtones, muddy catfish chords from the bottomlands" (7).

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