The Story of the Blues

Various Artists
The Story of the Blues


First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10

Written by John Metzger


In being given such a lofty title, The Story of the Blues is bound to draw criticism for the volumes of material that it does not include. The set, however, was originally released in 1970 as a double album and companion piece to Paul Oliver’s book of the same title, and given the inherent limitations — unless it is to become a ridiculously massive box set — the collection actually does an admirable job of providing an overview of the genre’s development while unearthing quite a few lesser known tracks. In doing so, it follows the blues from its African roots — a 1964 recording of the Fra-Fra Tribesmen in Ghana kicks off the historical journey — through its many transmutations during the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s.

Divided into segments, The Story of the Blues covers early pioneers like Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Peg Leg Howell; showcases its rousing entertainment aspect with recordings by the Memphis Jug Band, Bessie Smith, and Lillian Glinn; and delves into the precursors of rock ’n‘ roll with songs from Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Big Bill Broonzy, and Brownie McGee. Yes, there are holes in both the tracks and performers selected for inclusion, but the collection also seems to touch down in all the right spots, painting a broad overture without becoming mired in fanatical details.

A few years ago, Oliver’s The Story of the Blues was updated in order to reflect the changes that the blues has undergone since the book’s publication, and recently, its recorded counterpart was remastered and expanded to include 13 additional songs. It’s an intriguing selection of material, moving from Willie Dixon’s You Shook Me and Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy through the Jeff Beck Group’s I Ain’t Superstitious to Bob Dylan’s Cry Awhile before concluding with the Leadbelly/Howlin’ Wolf samples that form the basis for Little Axe’s Ride On. At first glance, it might appear as if this were far too few tracks to cover the last half century of music. But the new version of The Story of the Blues does maintain the purview of the original project, providing snapshots from 100 years of music history. starstarstar

The Story of the Blues is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2003 The Music Box