Blues Paperbacks


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OLIVER, Paul (series editor), et al. Two "Blues Paperbacks" [in hardcover]. London: Studio Vista, 1970-71. Two volumes. Small octavo, original black paper boards, original dust jackets.

First editions—desirable hardcover issues—of two core works of Paul Oliver's critically-prized series on the origins and influence of the Blues—Bengt Olsson's Memphis Blues and Jug Bands (1970), and David Evan's Tommy Johnson (1971) each richly illustrated. Though referred to as the "Blues Paperbacks" series, these first printings are in original boards and dust jackets.

This exceptional set of two first editions in hardcover in Paul Oliver's iconic series contains Bengt Olsson's Memphis Blues (1970) and David Evans' Tommy Johnson (1971).

Much of Memphis Blues, by Swedish journalist Olsson, "comes from a trip he took with fellow Swede and music enthusiast Peter Mahlin to Memphis in 1969… Memphis Blues documents the world of late-1960s house parties and picnics, street musicians around W.C. Handy Park and Beale Street, and jug bands and medicine shows… It provided some of the earliest research into the world of Memphis blues and jug bands." Included are over 40 illustrations, including photographic images of Furry Lewis, Willie Nix, Laura Dukes, Charlie Burse and Robert Burse, Walter Horton and many more, along with "an appendix of 1929 and 1930 Brunswick recordings in Memphis, a short sampling of lyrics (transcribed by Tony Russell) recorded by Memphis artists, a bibliography of Memphis blues (compiled by Russell), and a discography of Memphis musicians' recordings" (Komara and Johnson, 100 Books Every Blues Fan Should Own, 56-7).

In Tommy Johnson, Grammy Award-winning musicologist, producer and editor David Evans, a professor at the University of Memphis, writes: "For about 30 years Tommy Johnson was perhaps the most important and influential blues singer in the state of Mississippi… the influence of his music is still felt." The legendary musician "claimed to have sold his soul to the devil, showboated on stage by playing his guitar behind his head and between his legs, and used a falsetto voice that is unmistakable to contemporary blues fans… Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen revived the legend of deal-making Tommy Johnson, played by contemporary musician Chris Thomas King, in their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Johnson's music was a powerful influence on other bluesmen of his day, including Robert Nighthawk, Houston Stackhouse, Howlin' Wolf, Floyd James and Otis Spann, and it continues to shape the sound of blues today" (Mississippi Encyclopedia, 660-661). Evans' work draws on extensive interviews with family and friends of Johnson, as well as fellow musicians, and features over 30 photographic illustrations, along with detailed notes and a bibliography. First hardcover editions, first printings. Memphis Blues with list opposite title page of eight titles in Paul Oliver's series, beginning with Blacks, Whites and Blues, and ending with Memphis Blues. Tommy Johnson with list opposite title page of ten titles in the series, beginning with Blacks, Whites and Blues, and ending with Blues Revival, followed by a list of two "Forthcoming Titles": Laughing to Keep from Crying and Big Road Blues. At least 12 titles were published in the Blues Paperbacks series, all separately.

Both pristine copies in original dust jackets, in fine condition.

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