Blues: A Regional Experience/The Great Jazz Guitarists: The Ultimate Guide

By Komara, Edward | Notes, September 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Blues: A Regional Experience/The Great Jazz Guitarists: The Ultimate Guide


Komara, Edward, Notes


JAZZ Blues: A Regional Experience. By Bob Eagle and Eric S. LeBlanc. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013. [xxx, 598 p. ISBN 9780313344237. $52.20.] Illustrations.

The Great Jazz Guitarists: The Ultimate Guide. By Scott Yanow. Mil- waukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 2013. [xvii, 237 p. ISBN 9781617130236. $24.99.] Bibliographic references, discography, filmography.

Although Blues: A Regional Experience is the first book by Eric LeBlanc and Bob Eagle, both men have long been known to blues readers. Living in Australia, Eagle has contributed articles and reviews to many blues magazines for nearly fifty years. LeBlanc is a lifelong resident of Canada, re- cently retired from the National Research Council of Canada. Blues fans know him as the source of Eric's Blues Dates, a daily feed of vital statistics (including dates of births and deaths) for blues musicians on the newsgroups Blues-L and Pre-War-Blues (Yahoo). I became familiar with the ongo- ing research of both men when they served as associate editors under me for the Encyclopedia of the Blues (New York: Rout- ledge, 2006). Ever since they left that proj- ect midway through its writing phase, I have hoped that their vital statistics data would be published in a form more durable than a daily newsgroup feed.

Their data is indeed presented in Blues: A Regional Experience, not so much to consti- tute a researcher's resource, but more to serve their call to reconsider blues history through geography. Their topic is encapsu- lated in the statement: "the blues is a highly individual form of expression, so the ques- tion arises whether these similarities [among performers from the same general region] are truly regional rather than due to the local influence of a dominant per- former" (p. xvii). This question had oc- curred previously to Bruce Bastin, who ad- mitted in Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), that he was changing his previous characterization of the blues musician Blind Boy Fuller from innovator (in Crying for the Carolines [London: Studio Vista, 1971]) to synthesizer of 1930s blues styles. In their project, Eagle and LeBlanc take the view that the blues "foundations are more regionally cultural than racial, as witness its substantial abandonment by African Americans in recent decades" (p. xvii). Their thesis, then, is that the blues could have developed only in the "cotton plantation black culture" (p. 3) before World War II, especially before 1920. Toward proving that thesis, they have orga- nized their biographical vital statistics data by natural ecoregions as researched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, not according to state boundaries prescribed by law. The ultimate task of the reader, then, is to determine whether any musician in- cluded in an ecoregion section dominates all the other musicians listed there.

I anticipate, though, that Blues: A Regional Experience will be used more by librarians and catalogers and less by its authors' intended audience. Authority records for blues musicians have been diffi- cult for catalogers to research, mostly be- cause the blues culture has always been oral in nature and seldom written down. During the planning stage of the Routledge blues encyclopedia, LeBlanc told me that he had gleaned much of his data from published books, periodical articles, LP sleeves, and CD booklets. At that time (1999-2000), there were opportunities to obtain death certificates from various states, but with monetary costs and sometimes with access restrictions. LeBlanc and Eagle acknowl- edge (p. xi) that the recent appearances of Ancestry.com and other online genealogi- cal resources have enabled them to con- duct their research faster and in greater de- tail than before. Indeed, their endnotes cite Social Security Death Index data, cen- sus records, state birth indexes, draft cards, and other types of documents hardly ac- cessed or used by blues researchers fifteen years ago. …

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