Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lonnie Johnson and the Confluence Blues continued.

Lonnie Johnson and Sylvester Weaver are the men who pioneered blues guitar in the earliest years and both were doing it beyond the Delta of the Mississippi river and the Gulf of Mexico. Their recordings demonstrated what the guitar could do and they were decades ahead of their time. Lonnie's music was the birth of the blues writer/singer/guitarist. His sensational guitar work rose out from a period when the piano blues and the great female voices were replacing ragtime and marching band music.

Lonnie developed his guitar and violin style and blues sensibility in St Louis, and eventually he got his opportunity to make records because of the St Louis audiences. It was in the Booker Washington theater in St Louis where Lonnie made his musical home and it was the audience of the city who discovered and appreciated his music and awarded him winner of the weekly blues contest for many months in a row - virtually forcing Okeh records to realize that there was a market for this new music. The St Louis environment and the St Louis audience appreciation and support are the important parts of this story. These elements are the crucial part of his meteoric rise to stardom. And the city was more important to him and his music than any other place he resided in. 

He made his first recordings in St Louis, he and his brother married and raised families in St Louis, the largest part of his career was in St Louis and all of the close-knit musicians of the community in St Louis were his friends and partners in recordings.

Both St Louis and Lonnie Johnson are generally under-recognized in the commonly known history of American blues music. Lonnie's story illustrates this best, but there are many more St Louis legends revealed for the first time in Devil At The Confluence.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Jay Farrar - History at the Old Rock House.

On June 17, 2010, at his sold-out show, local Alt-country legend Jay Farrar gave a short talk about Devil At The Confluence before playing his song Outside The Door from his album, Sebastopol. The song's lyrics include a number of historical St Louis blues music names and places and Jay realizes that the long proud tradition of St Louis' strong musical heritage is sadly under-recognized. Devil At The Confluence hopes to change that and welcomes Jay along with many of the city's other talented current artists to the cause. We spoke with Jay not long ago and that and other interviews will be posted. More to come on the local artists that continue the St Louis Confluence tradition soon.

Image from the Riverfront Times blog.

Already a classic.

Steven Hoffmann, of The Archive, spotted Devil At The Confluence prominently displayed at a dealer's booth at the 2010 Chicago Antiquarian Book Fair.
No word on which dealer it was or what price he had on it, but the book is available (at the cover price) from a number of places including: the publisher Virginia Publishing, Amazon, the Illustrated Art Museum, BB's Jazz Blues and Soups, the Urban Arts Cafe, and The Archive at 3215 Cherokee Street. But hurry, this may mean that the book dealers are hoarding!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This is a quick post repeating the three very important points in the last post.

1. The musicians in Devil At The Confluence are all St Louisans.  
Lonnie, his wife Mary, Edith Johnson, Moore, Wheatstraw, Williams, Davis, Sykes, Jordan, Gibson, Townsend and all of the rest were not migrating. They lived in St Louis.
Others like Kokomo Arnold, Yank Rachel or Leroy Carr were not migrating, but they visited often or lived in St Louis. And it could be argued that they were a part of the St Louis community of musicians, but to stay strictly to those that recorded in St Louis, they aren't profiled in Devil At The Confluence. After WWII there was a lot of travel and relocating and possibly that's where the idea of St Louis, located in the middle of the country on Route 66, was a place to visit or pass through. 

2. The Southern birth theory of blues music history is inaccurate. 
W C Handy and Rainey first heard the music they called blues in St Louis while ragtime was still big and Joplin had a new hit with The Entertainer. Easily before Son House was born and even before Mississippi John Hurt was born.

3. In Devil At The Confluence, the definition of what is "blues" is based on what the pre-war artist's themselves said and what they called blues. Not what record companies, authors, critics or fans decided. 

The next post will continue with the most asked questions and more on Lonnie Johnson.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The real St Louis' Blues.

It seems like there hasn't been a break since Devil At The Confluence hit the bookshelves. Nearly weekly events, exhibits, readings and discussions have been going on for many months now and it's been very exciting to see this wave of enthusiasm and interest in the subject of St Louis history. It's very interesting and encouraging because there is a real thirst and enthusiasm for the stories of the decades of lost St Louis musical history. I've kept notes of the questions that I get most often and I'm going to try to elaborate on them here at the blog.

The first point of the book and the biggest misperception about the city's blues music history is also the most often discussed. And that is the fact that the book contains biographies of only musicians who are St Louisans. 
They are not visitors to St Louis or migrating southerners. 

The idea that music was solely formed and developed in the Delta and carried by one man or maybe a few from the Delta to be played for and taught directly to others in northern areas is probably the biggest misconception of American music history. 

The artists depicted with their biographies in Devil At The Confluence lived in St Louis, had families in St Louis or nearby, first recorded from St Louis and there is no evidence of music before they recorded in St Louis. This seems like an odd point to repeat about a book subtitled "The Pre-war Blues Music Of St Louis, Missouri," but it is the most important because the mythology that developed about blues music and it's evolution is a very prevalent and commonly accepted theory. It's outdated and inaccurate and it has diminished St Louis' importance to American music history. It was the realization of St Louis' many many blues greats and musical contributions that revealed this error and compelled me to make the book.

St Louis Bluesman Lonnie Johnson is a perfect example to illustrate the misunderstanding of early blues history. His music was blues. 
"Blues" is the word that he used for his music. 
And the original audience and buyers of the music called it "blues." 
And his contemporaries, the original legendary innovators of the music, used the word "blues" to describe the music. 
And that is the definition of "blues" that I used in the book. You'll see why that's an important point when talking about St Louis and Lonnie Johnson.

The next blog post will be Lonnie Johnson's story and why he and his city were overlooked in blues history.