Delta Bluesmen: Discerning Truth From Legend

As long as there have been bluesmen in the south, they have been surrounded with legends though.  For Robert Johnson, there was the infamous story of his deal with the devil to become a famous performer.  However, contemporary romanticisation of the Delta Blues is often shrouded in myth and misconception.  Below I’ve listed some of the pros and cons of working as a blues musician in first third of the 20th century.

Pros

Cons

Able to travel much more than the average black southerner

Spent life on the road in a constant state of flux and uncertainty

Played very high-energy Juke joint parties, where they were treated like stars

Forced to live within the Jim Crow laws of the south

Enjoyed many afterhours pleasures

Played for tips and scraps and many had to put in additional work on plantations

Polished their craft by playing for hours on end, each with his own unique style

Seen as sinners, which cause some, namely Son House, great personal and spiritual anguish.

Eventually, appreciated enough to get recorded by Alan Lomax

Most did not live long enough to see their recordings and contributions appreciate.  Son House became one of the few that was “rediscovered” in the 1960s.

 

Crossroads