Skip James (1902-1969) was perhaps the most creative and idiosyncratic of all blues musicians. Drawing on hundreds of hours of conversations with James himself, Stephen Calt here paints a dark and unforgettable portrait of a man untroubled by his own murderous inclinations, a man who achieved one moment of transcendent greatness in a life haunted ...
Skip James (1902-1969) was perhaps the most creative and idiosyncratic of all blues musicians. Drawing on hundreds of hours of conversations with James himself, Stephen Calt here paints a dark and unforgettable portrait of a man untroubled by his own murderous inclinations, a man who achieved one moment of transcendent greatness in a life haunted by failure. And in doing so, Calt offers new insights into the nature of the blues, the world in which it thrived, and its fate when that world vanished.
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This book is virtually unique in presenting a side of the "blues culture" very rarely considered. The author became close friends with Skip James, one of the most enigmatic and shady of the Mississippi bluesmen of the 1930's. Besides looking at a life lived in the shadow of the cotton plantation system, it is a psychological study of an emotionally stunted, misogynistic man with violent tendencies. At one point, Calt remarks that if he were black, he'd be like James, and if James were white, he'd be a lot like Calt. This makes the book doubly fascinating, because Calt not only analyzes James with a cold eye, but himself and his original hero-worshipping, oversimplified adoration of early blues legends. James spent segments of his life as a preacher, bootlegger, pimp, roustabout, and farmer in between serious attempts to make a name for himself in the music world. If you're already a fan of Skip James' music, this book will add layers of meaning to his songs. It's a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the blues or in African-American culture in the 20th-century deep South. It also gives poignant new meaning to the cliche, "To understand all is to forgive all."
Publishers Weekly, 1994-09-05 Less a biography of one blues legend than a biography of Mississippi blues, this account chronicles Skip James's life in part to make a more important, more affecting point. Most blues players from the early '20s and '30s waited decades for their music to earn them any degree of fame or financial reward. With a record's worth of songs earning them only $10 or $20, musicians survived as sharecroppers or manual laborers. Calt depicts James, born on a plantation in 1902 and abandoned early by his bootlegger father, as a man whose life before and after a single 1931 recording session was the blues. James's early years were not so different from his music-superstitious and undeniably violent. James made his living on the road, playing dance music in juke joints and whorehouses. Jazz fans discovered James in the '40s, and his songs ``22-20'' and ``Devil Got My Woman'' became instant classics. That James was one of the few to live long enough to witness his fame, which peaked in the '60s, was luck after years of hard living. Calt's interviews with James just before his death in 1969 imbue this book with a true survivor's voice. (Oct.)
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