Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas night, St Louis, 1895.

114 years ago on this night, Henry Crump and Billy Lyons were at Curtis' Morgan Street bar in St Louis when Lee Shelton arrived around 10 o'clock and joined the two men standing in the barroom. It was a cold night and the rains that had flooded the rivers downstate had let up. Blanketed by clouds, the quarter moon was low on the western horizon.

Tom Scott and Frank Boyd were tending bar that night and the place was nearly full with a crowd of about twenty five men. A life size photo of Jake Kilrain and a framed woodcut of General Grant were hung side by side on the wall.

Shelton was thirty years old, Lyons a year older and both were regulars at the bar, dropping in just about every day. Barkeeper Scott had known "Stag" Shelton since he was a boy.
Some patrons said there was an argument and some said they were just playing, but Shelton drew a .44 Smith and Wesson. When Lyons reached for his knife, he was shot and killed.

This was one of eight violent assaults that Christmas night in the city of St Louis resulting in at least seven deaths. There are no songs about those other six or their murderers.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Book review by K. Curtis Lyle.

There was an anxiety in the Devil At The Confluence Headquarters these past few weeks. We had been informed that K. Curtis Lyle was reviewing the book for the St Louis American newspaper.

The award-winning culture critic, Lyle was a founding member of the Watts Writers Workshop in 1966 in Los Angeles, California. He came to St. Louis in 1969 to help establish the African-American Studies Program at Washington University, where he was poet-in-residence. He has recorded records with the late Julius Hemphill, performed widely as a poet and has been anthologized in collections of jazz poetry. His books include: Drunk on God & From Out Of Nowhere, Nailed Seraphim and Electric Church.

It wasn't the job-interview, blind-date, rabbit test kinda anxiety because honestly, everyone who has replied after getting their copy has been enthusiastically happy and many have ordered more copies. It's just that we were really excited and honored that Curtis would give his thoughts on our project.

The review came out on the streets in the Christmas Eve issue of the St Louis American. 
Mr. Lyle digs the book.
In his hip and scholarly style he analyzes the methodology of the book and nails the larger purpose of the project. He gets it and tells it - the reason we did this book and the meaning of what this book represents.
Here are some excerpts:

"Each personage – from producer to club owner to blues giant to scene characters – is investigated, analyzed, probed in depth, placed in correct chronological and intellectual order. We are clearly told who did what when and what apparent difference it made – what effect it had on the history and social development of the music."

"Along the way, Belford challenges many items of conventional wisdom about the music with historical research and good common sense. Just as St. Louis has unfairly been relegated as a backwaters of the blues, however, a locally published book by a St. Louis author is not likely to garner the international attention it deserves. But if Belford’s research and reasoning could get anything approaching the play of Ken Burns’ documentaries or Wynton Marsalis’ pronouncements, the cultural discourse about American music would be shifted onto more solid and factual ground."

A more insightful review could not have been wished for. 
Thank you Mr. Lyle. 
And that second quote reveals our aspirations for 2010.

Happy holidays,
Devil At The Confluence.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Devil At The Confluence reviewed by Bob Koester.

Devil At The Confluence reviewed by Bob Koester in the latest issue of Jazz Record Mart's newsletter, Rhythm And News.

Devil At The Confluence by Kevin Belford.

We all know the story of W.C. Handy picking up at least some of his most successful song from a guy on the levee. St. Louis artist Kevin Belford just authored and published the definitive book on blues in St. Louis prior to World War II.

After an enlightening forward by Paul Garon (author of the book on Peetie Wheatstraw), Kevin begins with a view of St. Louis before the turn of the old century, including the ragtime era, Frankie & Johnny, Staggerlee, etc. and carries his history forward to include Little Milton.

It’s loaded with original art by Belford and extensive research from the surviving artists and a gleaning of blues magazine articles and books. It shows that St. Louis had infinitely more importance in blues history than one W.C. Handy song.

But of course you want to know the contents. I could not think of any St. Louis blues artists of that era that are not covered in this book.

In fact, I learned that many singers I had listened to were, in fact St. Louisans. Some very talented but unrecorded people such as the late Bennie Smith and (still living) Silver Cloud were also from St. Louis.

I like Belford’s approach - he doesn’t try to build a wall between blues and jazz. There are lots of references to St. Louis jazzmen such as Charles Creath, Dewey Jackson, Singleton Palmer and both Miles Davis’s (one a 20’s pianist).

Amid Belford’s splendid art, are photos of record labels and memorabilia providing richness to the St. Louis’ blues story. Kevin’s art has graced several Delmark albums: Biddle Street Barrelhousin’ (#739), the entire 50th Aniversary box set and it’s jazz and blues components, Cowboy Roy Brown (#790), and Barrelhouse Buck McFarland (#788) the last two which he also wrote the liner notes. Get this book. $39.95
- Bob Koester

Visit the store on the web:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The research behind the book

  When I began researching the St Louis blues music I found that most of the city's pre-war musicians were not included in the many books and discussions of the music. I also found that the few St Louis artists who were mentioned in blues writings were often described as Mississippi or delta area musicians. This was often done to give the artist some "blues credibility" since the blues are often mistaken as a solely Southern type of music. But I was amazed when I found Henry Townsend described as a delta artist, (Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, Henry Townsend, and "Townsend is one of the few living pre-war acoustic delta blues artists." )

  Henry was born in Shelby, Mississippi and carried by his father as an infant to Cairo, Illinois. Living there with his family until his young teens, he ran away from home to St Louis, Missouri and remained in St Louis the rest of his life. It was in St Louis that Henry saw Lonnie Johnson performing the blues at the Booker Washington Theater. Johnson on stage in a nice suit and playing his smooth sophisticated blues on guitar was what made Henry want to be a musician. Henry learned guitar and picked up the music from other musicians in St Louis, eventually becoming one of the more popular accompanists in the city. But, other than spending a few months in Chicago in the 1930s, Henry lived in St Louis for  all of his life.

  Finding this kind of distortion in the biographies of St Louis musicians made me suspicious of the rest of the information available for the blues of St Louis. I decided to test all the available facts that I could find concerning the music and artists of the city against primary source information such as interviews, city records, census, etc..

  Nearly all of the information in Devil At The Confluence on the hundreds of names that I found who had recorded from St Louis in the pre-war blues period is new and unpublished information.

  Recently I received an email from a music library cataloger at a large University. He was entering the information from the Devil At The Confluence CD included with the book into the library catalog and found discrepancies with the information in the book on Mary Johnson and the official information for her in the Library of Congress records. He listed the birth and death dates and the maiden name of "Smith" and the brief biographical details that are on record for Mary Johnson (".. two 'authority records,' part of an electronic database maintained at the Library of Congress; catalogers use the database to store and retrieve standardized 'headings' for people, corporate bodies, and titles of works") and asked me about my sources that I used to assign my birth and death dates and maiden name since it differs from the database.

  I replied that, in researching the information on the blues musicians of St Louis, I used a variety of sources and compiled them as best that I could. The sources that are quoted in his email were considered by me along with information about those sources and new information that I discovered. 

  Generally, the "official" recorded details of Mary Johnson's life were gathered by Paul Oliver when he contacted Bob Koester and visited St Louis sometime prior to 1960. Oliver had, I believe, only one interview session with Mary and her mother Emma. Koester and the St Louis Jazz Club had a meeting where Mary performed in 1955 and she was interviewed by Charlie O'Brien and Koester and possibly other members of the Jazz Club - although no notes or recordings of those interviews could be found. I believe that the information gathered from O'Brien and club members was passed on to others including possibly Sheldon Harris and Guido Van Rijn. I assume this type of informal discussion is how the published Mary Johnson facts came to be recognized, because the details of Mary Johnson's life are not well footnoted and the authors of the published books had only Oliver, Koester or O'Brien's verbal accounts to go by. Later books and websites mostly only re-wrote the scant details that were published by Paul Oliver.

  After Koester moved to Chicago, O'Brien gathered information for Van Rijn and they corresponded by mail. Additionally, Sam Charters of Folkways Records recorded Mary and Henry Brown in St Louis in 1961 and Mr. Charters often interviewed his subjects.

  The liner notes to Agram Records' "Mary Johnson - I Can't Take It" (Guido Van Rijn, Amsterdam, c 1988) states that: "Mary told Paul Oliver in 1960 that her mother Emma, was born in Eden Station, MS." and "Emma married a man named Smith and they had a daughter, Mary in 1905 near Jackson MS." (sourced by Van Rijn to: Oliver, Paul; "Interview with Emma Williams", St Louis, Aug 25, 1960. Van Rijn claims access to Oliver's notes from 1960 containing information that Oliver had not used in his book, "Conversation With The Blues" although the interview notes are not published.)

  And the book, "Blues Who's Who," contains the following information: "...born Mary Smith, an only child." No death date given. (Harris, Sheldon; BLUES WHO'S WHO, p. 288, Arlington House, NY, 1979.)

  These details are published without verifiable sources and I know of no confirmation of this information. Also, I disregarded unsourced web posted information. 

  My new research includes the following:

  From the Gould's City Directories (Missouri History Museum Library & Research Center and St Louis County Library Headquarters branch, Special Collections Department):
In 1960, there is a listing for: JOHNSON, Mary, Mrs, (r) 1311A Biddle.
From 1961 to 1970 Mary and Emma lived on Carr Ave.
From 1971 to 1980 Mary lived alone on Carr, and the last listing for Mary was in 1983.

  I was not able to find a birth, death or marriage certificate for Mary Johnson because I was told that in order to acquire these documents that I needed to prove a relationship to the individual at the City of St Louis Recorder of Deeds, Vital Records department.

  In the Greenwood Cemetery records that I had discovered and deposited at Western Historical Manuscripts at UMSL, I found two burials but I could not verify that these were the Mary Johnson and Emma Williams in question:

MARY JOHNSON d. 7/20/1983

EMMA WILLIAMS d.11/17/69

  The web-based Social Security Death Index lists one St Louis Mary Johnson in 1983 and two in 1984:

MARY JOHNSON 29 Mar 1898 Jul 1983 63115 (Saint Louis, MO)

MARY JOHNSON 31 Oct 1901 Apr 1984 63133 (Saint Louis, MO)

MARY JOHNSON 21 Aug 1889 Dec 1984 63121 (Saint Louis, MO)

  And the only Emma Williams listed from 1968 - 1974 is:

EMMA WILLIAMS 18 May 1880 Dec 1969 63106 (Saint Louis, MO)

  These details seem to indicate that:

  Emma Williams and a man named Smith had a daughter named Mary. (Whether Emma had the surname Smith at any time is not clear. The instances of the surname Williams for Mary Johnson seem to be from writer's assumptions that Emma's last name must be Mary's maiden name.)

  The reported birthdates include; 1900, c 1900, and 1905. (The 1905 birth date is apparently sourced from Van Rijn via Oliver's unpublished notes.)

  The reported birth locations vary; "Yazoo City," "near Yazoo City," "Yazoo County," "Eden Station, MS.,"  and "near Jackson, MS."

  Emma and Mary were in St Louis.

  Recording artist Lonnie Johnson married Mary (likely Smith) and she became Mary Johnson (around 1925.)

  Koester and O'Brien found Mary Johnson, former wife of Lonnie Johnson, in St Louis in the mid 1950s.

  Mary Johnson and Emma Williams lived together in St Louis in the 1960s.

  Emma Williams is not listed in the Gould's City directories with Mary Johnson after 1970.

  Reported death dates for Mary Johnson are "alive in 1970" and "1970?".

  Mary Johnson is not listed in the Gould's City directories after 1983.

  The Gould's directories are certainly the listings for the Mary (ending in 1983) and Emma (ending in 1969) in question.
  The Social Security Index identifies a Mary Johnson in St Louis and in a probable Zip Code who died in 1983, and an Emma Williams who died in 1969.
  And the Greenwood Cemetery records both contain a Mary Johnson who died in 1983 and an Emma Williams who died in 1969.

  I strongly feel that these records are for Mary Johnson and her mother, but I have no concrete verification (Health Department birth or death documents,) so my conclusion was that an approximate and likely date of birth would be 1900 (1898 - 1905, accounting for the various reports even though I strongly believe that her birth was 1898) and a death date of 1983. 

  This is the type of research that went into the making of Devil At The Confluence. I hope to donate my research files to a number of universities so that this information can be available for researchers and writers. I believe that when the facts for the rest of the hundreds of St Louis Pre-war blues musicians are established and recorded in the Library of Congress database, that it will be obvious that the city of St. Louis was a dominant force in the creation of American popular music and culture. This new information of such a large number of Pre-war artists from St Louis, likely the most of any one area of the United States, compels us to rethink the traditional theory of the story of American music.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Booksignings, recent press and reader's comments.


Thursday, December 3, 7pm, Subterranean Books signing with Kevin Belford for Devil at the Confluence @ Subterranean, 6275 Delmar, U. City, free.

Sunday, December 6, 2009, 1-3 pm
Kevin Belford, Jeff Fister and Dr. John Oldani at the "Book Jamboree" at the St. Louis Genealogical Society in Sunnen Industrial Park, #4 Sunnen Drive, St. Louis, MO 63143.
St. Louis area history and locally-themed books, local authors, free and open to the public.

What others are saying about Devil at the Confluence: 

"The best examples of the music's unvarnished power."
- USAtoday

"Making the case that St. Louis brought together a mix of country and city musicians, resulting in significant contributions to the genre."

"Provides a serious challenge to the long-held theory that the blues developed from a single point of origin."
- Terry Perkins, St Louis Post-Dispatch.

"Belford illustrated and wrote his book by scouring old record collections and newspaper clippings, scrutinizing past city maps and talking to just about anyone who knew about the local blues."
- Los Angeles Times.

"Packed with fascinating facts, cool artifacts, secret backstories, and gorgeous art."
- Adsaint

"Likely to surprise even so-called experts."
- The St. Louis Beacon.

"The untold history of the founding musicians of the St. Louis blues movement and an abundance of historical information."
- The Webster Kirkwood Times.

Rick Merry - I love the book !!!

Peter Cohen - Folks this is an awesome book, perfectly detailed and illustrated.

Vinnie Valenza - This book is a treasure! Everybody in this town and beyond need to read this book!

Devil At The Confluence is available at all major bookstores, Borders, Barnes & Noble and through Amazon. Signed copies can be requested by emailing devilattheconfluence (at)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

St Louis legend Silvercloud in concert

An Evening of performances of St Louis' pre- war blues music 
as presented in the book "Devil at the Confluence" 
by Kevin Belford, from Virginia Publishing.
Books will be on sale and the author and musicians will be available to sign copies.

Saturday, November 21, 2009      7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. 
at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Rd.
$10 at the door

Proceeds from the show will benefit the St. Louis Blues Society, 
a 501-C3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving blues music, to fostering the growth and appreciation of blues music, and to providing blues artists with an opportunity for public performance. 

Great chance to get Silvercloud's and the other artist's autographs on your book and help the St. Louis Blues Society promote the arts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Credit due

Devil At The Confluence started as a project to make a series of portraits commemorating the blues and jazz era musicians from St. Louis. I found there was very little information collected and documented about these artists and the research was what took so long to create this book.

Finding so much amazing new information, (new information that represents a reconsideration of the long-held theories regarding the roots of American music, actually) I realized that the stories of the talented St. Louisans of my portraits and the detailing of their important contributions to American culture needed to be presented and commemorated. 

This was important not only for the musicians who never received the recognition that they deserved, but for the future generations of young hopefuls in the arts who might otherwise think that St. Louis is not a place that traditionally has had much creative achievement and would thus be discouraged in pursuing their talents.

And I began to realize that there were a number of reasons why the many talented musicians of this area were never given the recognition that they deserve.

One major reason was that early interest in original American music by authors and scholars had been focused on the southern United States, and that limited thinking led to a common error of American music history, missing entirely or under-acknowledging hundreds of important, creative St. Louis musicians.

Another reason is a type of inferiority complex that the city has. St. Louis has a strong heritage of amazing creative talent in all of the arts, but it is generally shy when it comes to standing up and pointing out her qualities and heroes. 

I would like Devil At The Confluence to change these problems.
Giving credit where it's due is what my book is all about.

So it was an honor to receive a Kick Ass Award last night from 52nd City Media. This was the 6th Annual event, honoring the people who are cultural gems to our city chosen by the editors of 52nd City - a cadre of artists and writers dedicated to developing, incubating and releasing diverse and experimental works of interest created by local talent.

Since 2004, nearly 100 St. Louis individuals, organizations, businesses, newspaper editors, progressive activists, bloggers and other entities have been honored by the publishers of 52nd City, who promote the event, dedicated to folks in the community who often don’t get the praise they deserve… or, in other cases, folks that the publishers of 52nd City really, really dig. 
(, and

Former honorees include: Jazz pioneer/legend Hamiet Bluiett, Preservationists and architectural historians, Michael Allen & Claire Nowak-Boyd, local cultural scene activist and co-producer of KDHX's Literature for the Halibut, Ann Haubrich, The Webster University Film Series, The Crossroads School, Missouri ProVote and The International Institute.

My award was the final award, the mystery honoree, and I was truly caught off-guard. I have a vague recollection of what I said at the microphone, but I'm going to clarify my acceptance a bit further here. 

I share this award with and on behalf of the nearly 200 pre-war musicians of St. Louis. Thank you 52nd City. I hope that I can make the book and the story of St. Louis music live up to the meaning of the award. I would like to include this partial list of names of recorded pre-war artists who very much deserve the Kick Ass Award:

Lonnie Johnson, Teddy Darby, Walter Davis, Clifford Gibson, Peetie Wheatstraw, Big Joe Williams, John Lee Sonny Boy Williamson, Charley Jordan, Stump Johnson, Charlie Creath, Dewey Jackson, Mary Johnson, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland, Katherine Baker, Virginia Liston, Mozelle Alderson, Henry Brown, Peter Clayton, Alma Rotter, Al Miller, St. Louis Jimmy Oden, Luella Miller, Alice Moore, Bessie Mae Smith, Romeo Nelson, Eva Taylor, Robert Nighthawk, Milton Sparks, Roosevelt Sykes, Edith Johnson, Gene Rodemich, Irene Scruggs, Alma Henderson, Lizzie Washington, JD Short, Henry Townsend, Aaron Sparks, Speckled Red, Victoria Spivey, Priscilla Stewart, and Wesley Wallace.

Thank you for the honor and thank you 52nd City for seeking out, commemorating and supporting that which kicks ass in St. Louis.
That's my purpose in doing this book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Next Event - Borders in Sunset Hills

Book signing by Kevin Belford,
November 7, 2009, 7 pm.

10990 Sunset Hills Plaza
Sunset Hills, MO 63127

Hope to see you there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A rare St Louis appearance by Mr Bob Koester of Delmark records.
Vintage Vinyl, University City loop, Monday, October 19.

"DEVIL AT THE CONFLUENCE Pre-War Blues Music of St. Louis, Missouri" book signing and Q & A with Bob Koester (Delmark Records founder) and Kevin Belford (Devil At The Confluence author.)
Monday, October 19, at Vintage Vinyl, 6610 Delmar Blvd, University City. 7:30 pm - 9 pm, (314) 721-4096. Free.

Delmark Records is an American Jazz and Blues record label. Based in Chicago since 1958 it originated in St Louis, Missouri in 1953 when owner Bob Koester released a recording by the Windy City Six, a traditional jazz group in 1953, under the 'Delmar' imprint.

Moving to St Louis, Missouri to attend college Koester began his career as a record trader out of his dormitory room. Joining the local Jazz Club gave Koester his first taste of live jazz - seeing Bob Graf and Clark Terry perform. Koester would open his first record shop, the Blue Note Record Shop at the corner of Delmar and Oliver streets in St Louis. Taking the name from the street his shop was on Koester (then only 21 years old) recorded a local jazz group the Windy City Six in 1953. Shortly thereafter Koester searched out and found local talent in bluesmen such as Speckled Red, Big Joe Williams and J.D. Short.

After a period in St Louis Koester decided to move to Chicago in 1958. Delmark is the nation's oldest independent record label and Koester has received nearly all music-related awards one could hope for. He is one of a handful of nonperformers to have been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Get your copy of Devil At The Confluence from the author at the 
Blues City Deli's 5 Year Anniversary Streetfest,
Sat. Oct 17, 2009.

Rum Drum Ramblers/Pokey LaFarge,
Miss Jubilee and The Humdingers,
Elliot Sowell/Chris Ruest w/Sal Ruelas and Joe Meyer,
The Funky Butt Brass Band,
Big Mike Aguirre and Rockin Jake w/Sal Ruelas and Joe Meyer,
Los Carnales featuring Felix Reyes and Dave Herrero,

at the Blues City Deli this saturday.
2438 McNair, St. Louis, Mo. 63104

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Devil At The Confluence book signing at 
Left Bank Books (Central West End),
Tuesday, Oct 13, 
7:00 pm.
399 N. Euclid Ave.

Author Kevin Belford and live music by Brown Bottle Fever.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Devil At The Confluence book signing at the Argonne Gallery 
from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., during the Downtown Kirkwood Fall 
Festival of Local Flavor, Saturday, October 10, 2009.

The Argonne Gallery (across the street from the 
Kirkwood train station entrance.)
101A W. Argonne in Kirkwood.
Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Events and book signings

Book signing by author and illustrator of Devil At The Confluence, Kevin Belford at Webster Records, Saturday September 19, 2:00 pm. 

Official release party and book signing at the home of the blues in St Louis, BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups, Friday September 25, with the Soulard Blues Band - the original blues band in St Louis, since 1978.

Book signing at Taste of St Louis, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 2, 3 and 4. In the and the St Louis Blues Society tent near the main stage.

Book signing at Left Bank Books, October 13.

Book signing at Blues City Deli 5th Anniversary Street Party, October 17.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Look inside the book

A preview of a few of the pages inside Devil At The Confluence, 
the first comprehensive book ever published on the history of the 
blues music of St. Louis. 

More than a beautiful coffee-table book, the original illustrations, vintage
advertising and rare photographs detail the chronological story of what the St. Louis blues are, who the St. Louis blues musicians were, and how their careers began in St. Louis. Included with the book is a special compact disc of recordings by St Louis legends from Delmark Records.

Pre-orders by mail are $45 and signed by the author. 
To request a pre-order form, email: 
devilattheconfluence ( at )

A limited supply of advance copies are being sold at events in St Louis:

Sept 5 -6, at the Big Muddy Blues Festival on Laclede's Landing at the St Louis Blues Society booth.

Sept 11, a one night only exhibit at the Mad Art Gallery, 7 pm - 11pm.

Sept 19, The Old Webster Blues and Jazz Festival. Book signing at Webster Records, 2pm.

More events to be announced soon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The devil is here.

The advance copies of Devil At The Confluence are coming in batches this week. The earliest pre-orders are being filled and some really nice reviews and mentions are coming out already.

A national retail bookstore has the book listed to ship in September and they are taking pre-orders, but the book will not be available to any of the retail outlets until October 1, 2009.

The first chance to get the book is being saved for St Louisans because it's the city's history and it's the time to celebrate it. 
Here are the first of a number of events where the book will be on sale:

Saturday, Sept. 5 & Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009.
The Big Muddy Blues Festival.

The St Louis Blues Society will be selling books at their booth. These books will benefit the blues society for a number of really important goals that they have in keeping the legacy of the music alive. The supply of books available for the festival weekend is limited, so get your copy early and help a terrific cause at the same time.

Friday, Sept 11, 2009.
Mad Art Gallery proudly presents artwork from Kevin Belford's book Devil at the Confluence: The Pre-War Blues Music of St. Louis, one night only, September 11, 2009.

More info on events later as things get finalized, but we can hint that the book might be available at the Old Webster Blues and Jazz Festival and at the Blues City Deli's street party.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

September 11, 2009 event: The Art of Devil At The Confluence exhibit at the Mad Art Gallery

Mad Art Gallery proudly presents artwork from Kevin Belford's forthcoming book Devil at the Confluence: The Pre-War Blues Music of St. Louis, 
one night only, Friday, September 11, 2009.

more info:

Monday, August 3, 2009


There have been a lot of requests to pre-order the book, 
even though we don't have a shipping date yet. 
We only know that the books will be here sometime in September.

So we're going to try to do this the old pre-internet way – 
through the U.S. Postal Service.
If you'd like to reserve your signed copy of 
Devil At The Confluence
please send an email to
devilattheconfluence ( at ), 
tell us what state or country you're in 
and we'll give you the mail-order information.

We're very encouraged by the flood of requests and 
of course, there will be many opportunities at 
local events to get the book. 
And all of that will be announced here soon. 
Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peetie Wheatstraw

There is nothing known about the early life of William Bunch, the man known as Peetie Wheatstraw on records from the 1930s, yet there are many biographies of Peetie Wheatstraw that state that Bunch left Arkansas and wandered the South developing his musical style. It is more likely that he came to St. Louis and decided to become a musician when he heard the many other talents in the city. This would seem more accurate since Wheatstraw was both a piano and guitar player, a very common ambidexterity in pre-war St. Louis musicians.

"Big Joe knew everybody. You know he lived in St. Louis for a long time. He knowed Blind Darby, he knowed JD Short, Jelly Jaw. At the time when I was there Yank Rachell was there working in a chicken house. And Yank would play on the weekends. And that's where I met Peetie Wheatstraw. We used to go into East St. Louis and he lived in East St. Louis in the red-light district."
  Honeyboy Edwards, recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax, 1942.
(David "Honey Boy" Edwards: Delta Bluesman, 1994, Available from Earwig Records, CD 4922.)

Wheatstraw was one of the biggest stars in the early blues. His popularity is hard to calculate, but he was one of few musicians in the pre-war period to record through the depression. He is the only bluesman to use the association with the devil as his professional persona, even though the deal-with-the-devil myth is most often associated with Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson. The two unrelated Johnson's did not make any such claims. In both cases, someone else said that they had sold their soul to the devil, and in both cases the rumor began after their deaths – and many years after Peetie Wheatstraw had created the legend in St. Louis.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Elvis Costello on the Blues.

"They used to just get on with things, didn't they? 
They had the blues then. 
They understood the idea of the blues."

"There are about five things to write songs about: 
I'm leaving you. You're leaving me. I want you. You don't want me. 
I believe in something. 
Five subjects, and twelve notes. 
For all that, we musicians do pretty well."

Elvis Costello,
Esquire Magazine, 2003.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Big Joe Williams

Between when he was born in 1903 and when he died in 1982, Big Joe with his big G-tuned nine-string guitar became one of the most famous legends of the early blues. He has often been characterized as the stereotypical peripatetic bluesman although that description is somewhat deceptive. That may infer that he was relying on luck or chance opportunities in his wandering to play his music but that would not be accurate. It doesn't account for the man's knack for the deal, his clever talent scouting for recording partners and his many social and business connections that made his recording career spread across the globe and across half a century.

In 1934 he was in St. Louis and made his first recordings and his now famous song "Baby Please Don't Go" for Bluebird Records.

Big Joe Williams' album for Delmark in 1958, Piney Woods Blues, (Delmark DD-602, was recorded in part at the home of St. Louis dobro and lap steel guitar master Bob Briedenbach. He recalled as a young boy coming home from the store with his mother and finding his older brother Paul, St Louis folk and bluegrass legend John Hartford and Bob Koester of Delmark recording the very large Joe Williams who was sitting on the family couch with guitar and whiskey bottle. 
The album was awarded in the National Blues Hall of Fame in 2008.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Paul Garon

"Paul Garon is an author, writer and editor noted for his meditations on surrealist works and also a noted scholar on blues as a musical and cultural movement," so says Wikipedia about the writer of the foreword in DEVIL AT THE CONFLUENCE. 

So how cool is that? Paul Garon, respected authority on the blues AND surrealism was considerate enough to read through my rough manuscript and offer much helpful advice and then write a very smart intro for the book. I am grateful. And I am embarrassed because I waited almost too long to get up the courage to ask him. Then he came down with the flu the week we were going to press but still made the deadline, so add "unselfish" and "gracious" to the list of exceptional qualities for Mr. Garon.

At the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America website, ( he describes his introduction to the blues and searching for books about the blues:
"There were two I could find: Samuel Charters' The Country Blues (Rinehart, 1959) and Paul Oliver's Blues Fell This Morning (Cassell/Horizon, 1960/1961). I was already accumulating books by Kerouac, Burroughs, Corso and other writers of the Beat era, and gathering books on blues seemed only natural."

He soon became a contributing writer to English blues magazines and in 1970 he helped start Living Blues, the United States' first blues magazine. In 1971 his first book, The Devil's Son-in-Law; The Story of Peetie Wheatstraw and his Songs, was published and, in 1975, his book, Blues and the Poetic Spirit was published. 

In Blues and the Poetic Spirit, Garon discusses the attitude of earlier generations which had only slight curiosity concerning works of primitive art, "It was the Cubist painters – above all, Picasso and Braque – who were the first in Western civilization to recognize the imaginative power of many of these works..." and so: "It is thus only appropriate that the surrealists should also be among the first to champion the singularly exalting imaginative qualities of another realm of primitivism – the blues."

Paul Garon is one of few authors who understands that music and art are both creative expressions of man and thus very similar in their developments. Many blues music scholars and writers regard the music as a separate process and product, independent and isolated from the cultural factors that affected and helped shape all of the arts like painting, sculpture, dance and literature. And that is the flaw of most blues histories. Garon's writings benefit from his contextual understanding of art and 20th century popular culture at the time when the blues came about. That perspective was the catalyst for my approach to St. Louis' blues history – the traditional story of American blues music is inaccurate without context.
Paul and Beth Garon own and operate Beasley Books ( in Chicago, a bookstore of rare first editions and collectible books on subjects such as African American studies, labor history, psychiatry / psychoanalysis and one of the largest stocks in the US of scarce and out of print books on jazz and blues. Some of the store's best books are on display at Chicago Rare Book Center, in Evanston, Illinois.

And other books by Garon include:
What's the Use of Walking if There's A Freight Train Going Your Way? Black Hoboes and Their songs, with Gene Tomko;
The Forecast Is Hot: Tracts & Other Collective Declarations of the Surrealist Movement in the United States 1966-1976, with Franklin Rosemont and Penelope Rosemont;
Rana Mozelle: Surrealist Texts and
The Charles H. Kerr Company Archives 1885-1985: A Century of Socialist and Labor Publishing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bob Koester

Delmark Records began in St. Louis when Bob Koester was attending Saint Louis University in the 1950s and selling old 78 rpm records at his Blue Note store on DeBaliviere and Delmar Blvd. During the late-50s there was a return of interest to roots music and a rediscovering of the early blues artists. Many of those original artists were still alive thirty years after their recordings were made and in St. Louis, Koester found nearly all of the St. Louis bluesmen and women. He and local policeman and music fan Charlie O'Brien made it their hobby to track down anything they could about the names on the labels of the old phonograph records.

Delmark is the nation's oldest independent record label and Koester has received nearly all music-related awards one could hope for. He is one of a handful of nonperformers to have been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. 

Delmark has always been devoted to blues and jazz but those genres are indistinct categories today and recording older, less-commercially viable artists is a risky venture even in a strong economy. The label has never made the kind of profit mainstream music could have made and now music sharing is causing CD sales to dry up.

I met Bob in the late 90s when I had just started researching the music of St. Louis. Despite rumors of him being gruff, opinionated and outspoken, I found him to be one of the nicest guys in all of my researching. He gave me copies of nearly every Jazz Report (his mimeographed newsletter and catalog from the Blue Note days) to study and took most of a workday to go over each and every page and detail of my first draft manuscript in a Chicago coffeeshop. 

I'm very proud to have done album cover artwork and liner notes for Delmark – especially the 50th anniversary box set, but I am really happy to have a collection of rare recordings culled from Bob's archives on an exclusive CD in the book, DEVIL AT THE CONFLUENCE.

There was a great article about Koester in last weekend's NYT.
"Happily Seduced by the Blues," New York Times, June 28, 2009:

And an article by Scott Barretta for Blues Access from 1997, titled
"Bob Koester, The Monarch of Delmark" here:

And Delmark's catalog is on the web at:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson can be seen as the epitome of the St. Louis blues. 

With so much creativity and skills so far advanced of his time, the brilliance of Lonnie Johnson stands alone and often uncategorized in typical blues history writings. The blues purist authors avoid Johnson's amazing guitar dexterity that makes nearly all other pre-war guitar work seem primitive, and the jazz music history writers cold-shoulder him because he was not working from arrangement sheets.

The prolific careers of so many musicians in the St. Louis area in the 1920s and 30s and the innovative art they created defined the blues as more than only rough rural guitar from the southern United States. And like Lonnie Johnson, they made their art and advanced the field of music by inspiring other blues artists to keep up with the avant-garde from the city of the confluence. They made their own category of blues from what came before it and defined what was to come after it, but the St Louis blues have not yet been recognized as its own category, primarily because of the progressive concepts and the variety of the music from the many artists from the city.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Devil At The Confluence

 Kevin Belford is an artist in St Louis, Missouri. After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute, he has spent most of his career as a professional freelance illustrator.

His work in advertising, corporate art and editorial illustration has been published and exhibited locally and internationally. In St Louis, he is well known for his work in the print media--including The Sporting News, the St Louis Post Dispatch, St Louis magazine, and for years of covers of the Riverfront Times.

 He has produced a number of books including: The Ballpark Book, for The Sporting News, and the children’s books: Amazing Arthur Ashe, Spirit Of A Champion and Twist Of Fate--The Miracle Horse Of Longmeadow Ranch, as well as having done numerous interior illustrations and covers for longer works.

 The St Louis Blues Legends project began as a painting series to document the forgotten blues legends of the city.  However,after completing his initial research, Belford found that many area blues artists had been forgotten and that information on their part of the city’s history was never completely collected and preserved. Only a paragraph or two 

that mentioned St. Louis and its rich history of the blues and jazz musical genres could be found in printed works.

  So, Belford began a search of books, oral histories, archives, journals, discontinued magazines, printed interviews, genealogical resources, city records, recording company logs and cemetery books to compile a complete list of the pre-war recorded blues and jazz musicians of St. Louis and their songs.

 I realized that the availability and accuracy of the information was a problem with earlier attempts at a blues history for the area. The original artists are long gone, and they left little more than their blues recordings. I searched primary sources and public records and interviewed the few surviving blues artists. There is information available for ragtime and some of the early rock and roll that happened here, but the early blues of St Louis have never been fully documented. My idea was to show the original blues artists - who they were and what they did, so that fans could know about the them and non-fans could be led to discover their music.

 I hope the book can educate and can raise awareness of the fact that St Louis is the home of the blues -- the blues that became rhythm and blues and then rock and roll and eventually evolved into our current music styles. I hope that it helps people discover that St. Louis musicians have consistently been a part of every major trend in American music, and that it was that same way with the blues and jazz legends of the 1920s and 30s.  We sometimes overlook or take for granted the cultural treasures in our own back yard, yet no other area or city has the rich history and heritage for quality that St Louis has.

 A wonderful part of the blues is the lore and mythology, and I didn’t want to water down any of that. Music is, after all, entertainment, and I wanted the design and art of my book to mirror that intent, but another purpose has always been to commemorate and honor St Louis musicians and their music. 

 So, my first decision was to do everything as accurately as possible: to gather the facts about the musicians, the locations where they worked and lived and to place them and their songs within the context of the history of the city and the times. 

I did not seek to answer the usual question of "Where were the blues born?"  Instead, I wanted to answer the question “What blues were born in St Louis?”  

The blues are unique as a musical style. They are purely American, yet the themes are multicultural. They are one of a number of early transitional styles of American music and so they evolved from the best of what came before them. 

The blues were defined by the artists who made them simply as music inspired by sadness or hard times. Other definitions and categories came later and were written by fans and surveyors of the art form. The blues are also the original street music -- by the people and for the people. Their music had its day, and popular music moved on. Yet audiences and fans still revive them every few years. And each revisiting finds the music charmingly honest and contemporarily relevant.

Kevin Belford, 2009.