Ed Komara and Greg Johnson pick 100 Blues books

February 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

Two blues archivists were thrown in a room and came up with 100 books a blues fan should own. OK, well maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that, but Ed Komara and Greg Johnson did come up with the list that makes up 100 Books Every Blues Fan Should Own. Each entry is accompanied by a short essay explaining a little about the book. Today the authors tell us a little more about their book.100BluesBooks

Music Tomes: Can you fill us in a little on your background?

Ed Komara: I have always been interested in the history and scholarship of music. After a liberal arts college education, I headed straight into graduate school for music librarianship. Heading the Blues Archive and the Music Library of the University of Mississippi was my first job. I admit to being a Yankee, and my family all live in the north. So one reason why I returned north was for family.

Greg Johnson: I have lived in Mississippi all of my life. I was born just outside Meridian. My educational background is similar to Ed’s. I received a Bachelor of Music in History and Literature from the University of Southern Mississippi, where I also received a Masters of Library and Information Science. Like Ed, my first real job was heading the Blues Archive. I was first introduced to blues by listening to Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Highway 61 radio show with my dad in the early 1980s.

MT: In the introduction to the book you discuss the criteria that you both agreed on for the list. What was the process like when there was a disagreement? Say one of you thought a book should be there and had to convince the other?

EK: By and large Greg and I agreed on everything. I don’t remember any disagreements. There were about 75 books that we agreed should be on our list. Choosing the remaining 25 was a matter of seeing which books new to us were being suggested in the books each of us were reading.

GJ: We were quite agreeable to suggestions from the other. Deciding on the vast majority of books to include was quite easy. For the remaining titles, we tried to find areas that weren’t covered well by the first 75 titles.

Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson

MT: Were there any books that you wish you could have included but couldn’t because of the criteria you had laid out?

EK: Sometimes I feel a twinge for not having included King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton by Stephen Calt and Gayle Dean Wardlow. But it has been out of print for over 15 years, and copies on online used-book dealer sites are priced between 75 to 150 dollars. That kind of price for a paperback-only book was simply too high to ask of our readers.

GJ: There are several good general blues introductions/histories, but the information they provide isn’t vastly different from earlier pioneering works. It would have been nice to cover some collections of blues poetry, but when all was said and done, these fell outside our criteria.

MT: Can you recommend you favorite (one or more) movies or documentaries every Blues fan should see?

EK: Many aspects of the 1967 drama In The Heat Of The Night with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger were still true during the 1990s when I lived in Mississippi. Two of the documentaries in the Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues series, The Soul of a Man featuring Skip James and J.B. Lenoir, and The Road To Memphis featuring Bobby Rush, are as good as any other blues documentary I have seen. Robert Mugge’s documentary Deep Blues brings back many memories of the Mississippi musicians I met. For movies in general, my favorites are the first Godfather movie, the black-and-white version of King Kong, and Blazing Saddles.

GJ: I just watched a BBC program called Blues America. I don’t think it is easily available yet. They really did a nice job with this two-part show. I really enjoy Deep Blues for the performances of so many North Mississippi Hill Country artists. In terms of films many blues fans might not know, I enjoyed Willie King – Down in the Woods. That’s so funny that Ed likes Blazing Saddles. This is my favorite Mel Brooks film.

MT: What are you currently working on?

EK: I have been contributing artist entries for the two sets of Paramount Rise and Fall being produced by Third Man Records and Revenant Records. The first set was published last fall, and the second set is projected to appear this coming November.

Ed Komara

Ed Komara

GJ: I’m finalizing metadata for about 15,000 blues photographs we’ve recently scanned in the archive. Once these are complete, we’ll have scanned and described over 40,000 images of blues performers and blues venues. We’re getting set to digitize over 500 tapes in the recently acquired Mary Katherine Aldin Collection.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

EK: Of course, there is 100 Books Every Blues Fan Should Own. My favorite of the others I have published is The Road To Robert Johnson. I was stunned by Houston Baker’s Blues, Ideology and Afro-American Literature while reading it for the 100 Books project, so as a result I am still reconsidering what are my favorite blues books by other writers. For jazz, I admire the opening chapter of Ross Russell’s Charlie Parker biography Bird Lives for its hard-boiled pulp-fiction prose. Because of my work in building music libraries, I have favorite biographies in classical music and rock. Give My Regards to Eighth Street by Morton Feldman is one I like to read at work during slow afternoons.

GJ: These might seem odd, but outside of books about blues, I enjoyed Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage; The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso; Charles Mingus’ Beneath the Underdog is a good read, though you won’t learn much about music.

Eric Banister


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