The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162706   Message #3875388
Posted By: GUEST,Joseph Scott
05-Sep-17 - 04:47 PM
Thread Name: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
Subject: RE: Stephen Calt's biography of Skip James
My amazon two-out-of-five star review of the Calt/James book:

"There are many possible objections to this book. For instance, Calt called Skip James a 'darkey' in this book, without quotes.

Calt's real qualifications for writing this book were that he knew Skip James personally and, that's about it. (His liner notes were as erratic factually as this book is.) As the title says, the book has two subjects, Skip James and the blues. Calt had a lot of theories about blues music on offer in this book. He didn't bother to make sure they were historical. If he liked the idea that Leadbelly was the first black person presented to the public as a folk artist, then that's what you get, and you get to never mind that the artists The Afro-American Folk Song Singers were performing under that name in the 1910s. If on Calt's planet _no_ folklorists (in Calt's black-or-white world, exaggerations were more impressive than shades of gray) considered blues music to be folk music, then that's what you get, and you get to never mind that actually they routinely did, on our planet (e.g. Howard Odum did as of 1911 and John Lomax did as of 1912). And on and on it goes like that. I would have loved to see Calt try to tell Little Walter (fourteen top ten R&B hits between 1952 and 1958) or John Lee Hooker or B.B. King that actually blues _wasn't_ selling very well in the '50s, according to whatever angle Calt had in mind at the moment.

If he couldn't get the history of blues in general right -- and he literally could not accurately paraphrase what an individual folklorist had written when he was pointing right at it -- then when can we have confidence that his attempts to paraphrase what Skip James and others had supposedly said in the '60s are accurate either? On the plus side, he recorded some of his conversations with James, and on occasion we get to read actual direct quotes from those recordings. (Mostly they're uninteresting because James wasn't very interested in talking about music with Calt.)"