Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis: Conversations with the Blues

By Koch, Stephen | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis: Conversations with the Blues


Koch, Stephen, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis: Conversations with the Blues. Edited by Fred J. Hay. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001. Pp ix, 271. Preface, introduction, acknowledgments, illustrations, recommendations, bibliography, index. $22.50.)

The bulk of Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis consists of transcriptions of interviews with nine aging blues artists that Fred J. Hay and Bill Lyons did while students at Southwestern College in Memphis during the early 1970s. Hay was a student in John Quincy Wolf's famed folklore course, and another folklore instructor, Richard Wood, encouraged the pair "to design a credit course in which we visited and interviewed local blues people." The common thread among the interview subjects is simply their residence in Memphis. They include Bukka White, Furry Lewis, Joe Willie Wilkins, Houston Stackhouse, Lily Mae "Big Memphis Ma Rainey" Glover, Tommy Gary, Earnest "Boose" Taylor, "Little" Laura Dukes, and "Big" Amos Patton. These subjects range from the well-known to the obscure, are male and female, and play a variety of instruments; the interviews themselves are likewise a mixed bag.

A few overlooked Arkansas blues locations get overdue mention here-Hughes, Marianna, West Memphis's KWEM-and there are occasionally delightful nuggets to be found within the chapters. Some of the interviews are more illuminating than others, while the author's meticulous notes are at once the book's strength and weakness. Goin ' Back to Sweet Memphis is exhaustively referenced and the interview transcriptions are repeatedly interrupted with author's notes, sometimes to the point of distraction. …

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