John Minton, 78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. (American Made Music Series), 2008. x+288 pp. (ISBN: 9781934110195) (cloth).
Yves Laberge, Ph.D.
John Minton is a professor of folklore at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne and his third book, “78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South”, is taken from his Ph.D. thesis from 1990.
Unlike most scholarly written books, this essay is written in the first person. In seven thematical chapters, Minton reflects on his own initiation into the musical world in his youth (occuring mainly during the 1970’s) and his personal experience of discovering the various musical genres from the previous decades, being aware of the social background of the American music and the impact of the manufacturing of the records he used to listen to. He questions why, say, during the early seventies, almost everybody seemed to enjoy Robert Johnson’s songs as interpreted by contemporary rock groups like Cream, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers, but most of that same audience could not stand (or even have access to) the original recordings of these same works made by the composer in 1937 and 1938, even on LP reissues. The old folk and blues repertoire was revisited for the old folk and blues repertoire (from Woody Guthrie to Mississippi John Hurt) that was “revisited” or rediscovered during the 1960’s by various white artists like Bob Dylan or The Beatles and many British groups (20). In other words, Minton’s awareness and (re)discovery of roots American music was made backwards in chronological terms: “Even then, I knew enough of Southern culture and history to realize they drew breath from a vast rural underclass and a vanished way of life” (20). Back in the 1920’s, most folksongs were not made by professional artists and performers borrowing various identities for every song, but rather by “ordinary people” whose identities were either “workmate, neighbor, church member” when they recorded their music (21). (more…)