Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blues Guitar for Dummies on sale December 18, 2006

My latest entry into the Dummies juggernaut is Blues Guitar for Dummies. This 384-page book includes a CD-ROM of all the musical examples that appear in the book (over 140 of them). The book provides tips on buying guitars, lists must-have recordings, gives a history of the blues and its key guitarists, and includes lots and lots of instruction and music examples. Everything from fingerstyle (Delta, Piedmont, ragtime, country) to electric (Chicago, blues-rock) to slide (standard and open tunings) is explored in depth. Blues Guitar for Dummies is perhaps a little easier than Rock Guitar for Dummies, and a good next step after Guitar for Dummies.

One of the most interesting things I discovered in researching the book was just how much the blues has been ignored by instrument manufacturers, record lablels, and even listening audiences over its history. Most of the blues knowledge we have is due to the resurrection of the genre beginning in the mid- to late-1960's (during the Great Folk Scare). Many of the primary, first-generation blues artists (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf) were middle-aged or elderly by the time they were rediscovered, having spent the prime of their careers (and lives) in obscurity. So the information before this period is scant, and scholars vigorously disagree on even the most basic issues, like the spelling of artist's names (Charlie vs. Charley Patton, etc.) and birth data (year and location). Even the living artists themselves gave conflicting accounts of events.

Then there's the collective ignorance of the public. Most people don't even know where the Mississippi Delta is (it's not at the mouth of the River; it's 200 miles north), and are hazy about what is history and what is lore.

When I was researching early electric instruments, there was plenty of available material on popular and jazz players of the day, but relatively little on blues players, despite blues preceding jazz (and in many cases influencing it). You can find celebrity endorsements by Nick Lucas, Jonny Smith, and even Trini Lopez (!), but not T-Bone Walker.