Tony Russell's opus is an elegantly produced, lavishly illustrated paean to blues artists, blues legends, and the history of the blues. Richly enhanced by hundreds of historic black-and- white photographs as well as color photographic portraits, Russell's text exudes his knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject. He maps the progression of the blues in a Blues Time chart, from the first publication of blues compositions ("Memphis Blues" by W.C. Handy and "Dallas Blues" by Hart Wand in 1912) to the deaths of Willie Dixon and Albert King and the opening of First House of Blues in Los Angeles in 1992, and he writes about its history, from early 1900s roots, through nine stages of blues development, to modern times.
Russell profiles 24 blues legends, such as Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, and Howlin' Wolf, recounting their lives, musical accomplishments, and recordings. And there's an A to Z of blues artists, from Texas Alexander (1900-1954) to Zora Young (born 1948), that provides biographical sketches and a musical analysis of close to 400 blues virtuosos. In addition, Russell includes a selection of 55 milestone recordings, from Blind Blake's "Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Fingerpicker" to Big Joe Williams's "Shake Your Boogie." With a calendar of United States and European Blues festivals, an appendix of blues biography, history, and discography books, and a decent index, Russell's Blues volume is a useful reference and a visually beautiful tribute to the blues. --Stephanie Gold
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