Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis

Conversations with the Blues

Fred J. Hay

Illustrated by George D. Davidson

Title Details

Pages: 312

Illustrations: 11 illus.

Trim size: 6.120in x 9.250in



Pub Date: 05/15/2005

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2732-7

List Price: $25.95

Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis

Conversations with the Blues

Fred J. Hay

Illustrated by George D. Davidson

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Memphis, Tennessee, is a major crossroads for blues musicians, songs, and styles. Memphis is where the blues first "came to town" and established itself as a cosmopolitan performance genre, and the city has long been a center of synthesis and evolution in blues recording. This volume tells the story of the blues in Memphis through previously unpublished interviews with nine performers who helped create and sustain the music from the days before its commercial success through the early 1970s. Their attitudes, experiences, and insights impart a deeper understanding of the blues aesthetic and philosophy.

The performers' backgrounds range across the blues genres, from classic blues (Lillie Mae Glover) to country blues (Bukka White), from jug band blues (Laura Dukes) to tough, postwar electric blues (Joe Willie Wilkins and Houston Stackhouse). Some, like Furry Lewis and Bukka White, are known around the world. Others, like Laura Dukes, are locally popular, while Boose Taylor is virtually unknown. The range of instruments mastered by the musicians-banjo, fiddle, guitar, fife, bass, ukulele, piano, and harmonica-testifies to the many expressive voices of the blues. Some of the interviewees were singing and performing mostly for white blues/folk revivalist audiences by the 1970s; others, such as Joe Willie Wilkins and Houston Stackhouse, continued to perform mostly for black audiences in Memphis and in the small cafes that dotted the Mississippi Delta.

Each interview is illustrated by noted printmaker George D. Davidson and introduced with a biographical sketch by Fred J. Hay. In addition, Hay's extensive notes identify many other blues performers-friends and music partners of the interviewees whose names come up in their many asides and allusions. Together these materials document and pay tribute to the remarkable richness of the Memphis blues scene.

An important work capturing first-hand the vitality and flavor of the Memphis blues scene. Hay's interviews are priceless. Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis is entertaining reading for blues enthusiasts as well as anyone interested in music, American culture, or history.

Multicultural Review

The memories of these musicians, all of them dead now, evoke, if not the first generation of recorded blues, then certainly the second. They give us a real feel for the way such individuals spoke, which, not surprisingly, closely resembles the direction in which they sang.

Canadian Bookseller

While this volume will add little to your factual understanding of the blues, they will allow you to better understand the environment and culture in which the music was developed. . . . As an anthropological study, this book is unreservedly recommended.


Documentary historian Fred Hay and artist George Davidson should find considerable attention among blues enthusiasts and historians of the U.S. South with the production of their second collaborative effort, Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis.

—Anna Creadick

Those among us who value the preservation and commemoration (two very different things that this book achieves) of blues music in Memphis and elsewhere are indebted to Hay and Davidson for their devotion to the music and musicians that we, too, love.


About the Author/Editor

FRED J. HAY is a professor of Appalachian studies at Appalachian State University, where he is also librarian of the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection. His books include Documenting Cultural Diversity in the Resurgent American South.