2.

The blues sometimes seems to have traveled a long way before the earliest recordings helped to settle it down in the 1920's. There still seems to be some of the dust and the discomfort of the trip in a singer's voice, or in the imagery of a word or a line. The trip, however, hasn't been along one. The formal patterns of the blues seem to have developed less than sixty years ago, sometime during the years before the First World War. It is the blues' intensity and directness, its response to the reality of experience, which gives it a traveled appearance. It has been so many generations since European and American popular song has had the immediacy of the blues that there is a tendency to think of the earliest blues as somehow part of this almost forgotten period of history. But in the verses, and in the musical styles, there is still a young, fresh vitality. Many of the older men who remember the blues are still living. Some of them even still sing. They live on back streets in southern cities like Memphis or St. Louis, on run down farms, in smaller towns like Spartanburg or Macon. Some of them have drifted into the slums of New York or Chicago. Some of them have day jobs, a few have become business men, somehow finding a footing in the shifting patterns of southern racial discrimination; otherslive on welfare checks. Most of them are poorly educated, often broken physically by the long years of menial work or by the drain of long and enthusiastic dissipation. With strangers they often have difficulty in expressing themselves in conversation, but there is one subject on which all of them have definite and carefully considered feelings; the blues.

They don't travel as much as they did when they were younger; when a "travelin' mood" would set them drifting from town to town until they settled with a new job or a new woman. They don't see each other as much and they don't have as much chance to sing together, but their attitudes toward the blues have a marked similarity. Their concern is with the sincerity of the blues. They think of the blues as an expression of the difficulties and the disappointments of the life that they have seen in the streets and tenements and the poor farms. Henry Townsend, in St. Louis, felt that the heart of the blues was ". . . the

-11-

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The Poetry of the Blues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Introduction 5
  • 1 7
  • 2 11
  • 3 27
  • 4 35
  • 5 43
  • 6 67
  • 7 80
  • 8 98
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