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Blues Books - Recommendations

There are many fine books on the Blues, so I thought I would share with you my recommendations.

The list starts with general books of the blues (essential reading), followed by blues artists (in alphabetical order), interjected with blues books on particular themes. I will also be adding books on Gospel music, Zydeco and R&B. I hope you find the list useful. You may not agree with all my recommendations - if not let me know. If you have any recommendations of your own, again, let me know.

Several of the books listed are now out of print and hence unavailable to buy new. You may be lucky and come across an old copy. If you have any blues books you don't want, please let me know.

Whilst I have taken every care to ensure details are correct, you may spot a mistake.  If you do, please let me know and I will correct it as soon as I can.          Thanks,     Alan White.     

Early Blues Bibliography

As stated above the list below comprises my personal recommendations of blues books in various categories. Here is a complete bibliography of some 470+ blues books found on the internet. An awesome bibliography and a fantastic achievement by the compiler, Mike Bullock. Many thanks Mike for allowing the bibliography to be published here.

 Click here to view.


Title: The Story of the Blues
Author: Paul Oliver
Publisher: Pimlico, London (Revised edition published 1997)
Date Published: 1969 (Original publisher Barrie & Rockliff, The Cresset Press)
ISBN: 0-7126-7492-6
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Title: The Land Where the Blues Began
Author: Alan Lomax
Publisher: Delta Trade Paperbacks, New York, USA
Date Published: 1995
ISBN: 0-385-31285-7
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Title: The Country Blues
Author: Samuel B. Charters
Publisher: Da Capo Press, New York (Revised edition published 1975)
Date Published: 1959 (Original publisher Rinehart, New York)
ISBN: 0-306-80014-4
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Title: Blues Fell This Morning : Meaning in the Blues
Author: Paul Oliver
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (Revised edition published 1990)
Date Published: 1960 (Original publisher Cassell & Company, London)
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Title: Big Road Blues : Tradition & Creativity in the Folk Blues
Author: David Evans
Publisher: Da Capo Press, New York
Date Published: 1982
ISBN: 0-306-80300-3
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Title: Songsters and Saints : Vocal Traditions on Race Records
Author: Paul Oliver
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Date Published: 1984
ISBN: 0 521 26942 3
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Title: Conversation With The Blues
Author: Paul Oliver
Publisher: Horizon Press
Date Published: 1965
ISBN: 0 521 26942 3
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Title: Barrelhouse Blues: Location Recording and the Early Tradition of The Blues
Author: Paul Oliver
Publisher: BasicCivitas Books
Date Published: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-465-00881-0
 Catalogues (Blues Reference Bibles)
Title: Blues & Gospel Records 1890 - 1943
Author: Dixon, Godrich  and Rye
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK
Date Published: 1997 (Fourth Edition)
ISBN: 0-19-816239-1
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Title: The Blues Discography 1943-1970
Author: Les Fancourt & Bob McGrath
Publisher: Eyeball Productions
Date Published: 2006
ISBN: 0-9686445-7-0
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Title: The Gospel Discography 1943-1970
Author: Cedric Hayes & Robert Laughton
Publisher: Eyeball Productions
Date Published: 2007
ISBN: 0-9686445-7-0
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Title: All Music Guide to The Blues : The Definitive Guide to the Blues
Author: Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra and Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Publisher: Backbeat Books
Date Published: 2003
ISBN: 0-87930-736-6
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Secret Language of the Blues: What the Lyrics Really Mean

Author: Robert Cramer
Publisher: Pulp Hero Press
Date Published: 2021
ISBN: 978-1683902768
 African Roots
Title: Savannah Syncopators : African Retentions in the Blues
Author: Paul Oliver
Publisher: Studio Vista (November Books Ltd), London (Series edited by Paul Oliver)
Date Published: 1970
ISBN: 289.79828.0
  Michael Bloomfield
Title: If You Love These Blues
Author: Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenom
Publisher: Backbeat Books
Date Published: 2000
ISBN: 978-0879306175
 Big Bill Broonzy
Title: Big Bill Blues
Author: Big Bill Broonzy as told to Yannick Bruynoghe
Publisher: Cassell, London
Date Published: 1955
Title: I Feel So Good : The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy
Author: Bob Riesman
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
Date Published: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-226-71745-6
 Carolina Blues
Title: Crying for the Carolinas
Author: Bruce Bastin
Publisher: Studio Vista (November Books Ltd), London (Series edited by Paul Oliver)
Date Published: 1971
ISBN: 289.70210.0
  Cincinnati Blues
Title: Going to Cincinnati: A History of Blues in the Queen City
Author: Steven C. Tracey
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Date Published: 1993
ISBN: 0-252--01999-7
  Classic Female Blues Singers
Title: Ma Rainey and The Classic Blues Singers
Author: Derek Stewart-Baxter
Publisher: Studio Vista (November Books Ltd), London (Series edited by Paul Oliver)
Date Published: 1970
ISBN: 289.79826.4
 Reverend Gary Davis
Title: Oh, What A Beautiful City
A Tribute to The Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972)
Author: Compiled by Robert Tilling
Publisher: Mel Bay Publications, Inc.
Date Published: 2010
ISBN: 978-078668258-4
 The Dixie Hummingbirds
Title: Great God A'Mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds :
Celebrating the Rise of Soul Gospel Music
Author: Jerry Zolten
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date Published: 2003
ISBN: 9780195152722
 Willie Dixon
Title: I Am The Blues : The Willie Dixon Story
Author: Willie Dixon with Don Snowden
Publisher: Quartet Books, London
Date Published: 1989
ISBN: 0 7043 2707 4
 Buddy Guy
Title: When I Left Home: My Story
Author: Buddy Guy & David Ritz
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Date Published: 2012
ISBN: 978-0306819575
 W. C. Handy
Title: Father of the Blues
Author: W. C. Handy
Publisher: Jazz Book Club (Original publisher Sidgwick and Jackson)
Date Published: 1961
 Son House
Title: Preachin' The Blues : The Life & Times of Son House
Author: Daniel Beaumont
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date Published: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-19-539557-0
 Alberta Hunter
Title: Alberta : A Celebration In Blues
Author: Frank C. Taylor with Gerald Cook
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Date Published: 1987
ISBN: 0-07-063171-9
 Mississippi John Hurt
Title: Mississippi John Hurt : His Life, His Times, His Blues
Author: Philip R. Ratcliffe
Publisher: The University Press of Mississippi
Date Published: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61703-008-6
 Skip James
Title: I'd Rather be the Devil : Skip James and the Blues
Author: Stephan Calt
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Date Published: 1994
ISBN: 0-306-80579-0
 Lonnie Johnson
Title: The Original Guitar Hero and The Power of Music:
The Legendary Lonnie Johnson, Music and Civil Rights
Author: Dean Alger
Publisher: University of North Texas Press
Date Published: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-57441-546-9
Review: "Dean Alger offers the long overdue biography of one of the true geniuses of 20th century music. Alger has woven material from extensive research into a narrative that presents the real Lonnie Johnson in light of an unjustly underrated and neglected superstar. Fascinatingly readable, the book goes even further in that it places Johnson in the broadest context of American culture of the 20th century, seeing him rightly not only as a trailblazer and pervasive influence on a variety of musical genres - jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, rock and folk - but as an important symbol of race relations, racial understanding, and racial progress".
  - Steven C. Tracy, Professor of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts.
Feature: Click here for a special feature on Dean Alger's excellent book
 Robert Johnson
Title: Love in Vain : A Vision of Robert Johnson
Author: Alan Greenberg
Publisher: Da Capo Press (Revised edition published 1994)
Date Published: 1983 (Original publisher Doubleday, New York)
ISBN: 0-306-80557-X
 Tommy Johnson
Title: Tommy Johnson
Author: David Evans
Publisher: Studio Vista (November Books Ltd), London (Series edited by Paul Oliver)
Date Published: 1971
ISBN: 289.70151.1
Title: The Life and Legend of Leadbelly
Author: Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Date Published: 1999
ISBN: 0-306-80896-X
 Blind Willie McTell
Title: Hand Me My Travellin' Shoes : In Search of Blind Willie McTell
Author: Michael Gray
Publisher: Bloomsbury, London
Date Published: 2007
ISBN: 9780747565604
 Memphis Minnie
Title: Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues
Author: Paul and Beth Garon
Publisher: Da Capo Press, New York
Date Published: 1992
ISBN: 0-306-80460-3
 Little Brother Montgomery
Title: Deep South Piano : The Story of Little Brother Montgomery
Author: Karl Gert zur Heide
Publisher: Studio Vista (November Books Ltd), London (Series edited by Paul Oliver)
Date Published: 1970
ISBN: 289.70028.0
 Charlie Patton
Title: King of the Delta Blues : The Life and Music of Charlie Patton
Authors: Stephen Calt and Gayle Wardlow
Publisher: Rock Chapel Press, New Jersey, USA
Date Published: 1988
ISBN: 0-9618610-0-2
  Sam Phillips
Title: Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll
Authors: Peter Guralnick
Publisher: W&N
Date Published: 2015
ISBN: 978-0297609490
 Poetry and The Blues
Title: Blues and the Poetic Spirit
Authors: Paul Garon
Publisher: Eddison Press
Date Published: 1975
ISBN: 0 85649 018 0
 Railroads and the Blues
Title: Railroadin' Some : Railroads in the Early Blues
Authors: Max Haymes
Publisher: Music Mentor Books
Date Published: 2006
ISBN: 0-9547068-3-8   Click here for more details
 Ma Rainey
Title: Mother of the Blues : A Study of Ma Rainey
Authors: Sandra Lieb
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Date Published: 1981
ISBN: 0-87023-334-3
 Bessie Smith
Title: Bessie : Empress of the Blues
Author: Chris Albertson
Publisher: Abacus
Date Published: 1975
ISBN: 0 349 10054 3
 Blues in the Southeast
Title: Red River Blues : The Blues Tradition in the Southeast
Author: Bruce Bastin
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Date Published: 1986
ISBN: 978-0-252-06521-7
 Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Title: Shout, Sister, Shout!
The Untold Story of Rock-And-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Author: Gayle F. Ward
Publisher: Beacon Press
Date Published: 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8070-0985-7
 Muddy Waters
Title: Can't Be Satisfied : The Life and Times of Muddy Waters
Author: Robert Gordon
Publisher: Pimlico, London
Date Published: 2002
ISBN: 0-7126-3999-3
 Peetie Wheatstraw
Title: The Devil's Son-in-Law : The Story of Peetie Wheatstraw and his Songs
Author: Paul Garon
Publisher: Studio Vista (November Books Ltd), London (Series edited by Paul Oliver)
Date Published: 1971
ISBN: 289.70212.7
 Howlin' Wolf
Title: Moaning at Midnight : The Life & Times of Howlin' Wolf
Author: James Segrest and Mark Hoffman
Publisher: Thunder's Mouth Press, New York (Revised edition published 2005)
Date Published: 2004 (Original Publisher Pantheon Books)
ISBN: 289.70212.7
 Zydeco Music
Title: The Kingdom of Zydeco
Author: Michael Tisserand
Publisher: Avon Books
Date Published: 1998
ISBN: 0-380-73238-6
 Factual Blues Related Books
Title: Blues for Francis: The Life and work of Francis Wilford-Smith
Author: Caroline Beecroft and Howard Rye
Publisher: Music Mentor Books
Date Published: 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9562679-5-5

For many years, Francis Wilford-Smith led a parallel existence as an internationally respected cartoonist/illustrator ('Selby'), and also as one of the world's foremost collectors of blues records and an acknowledged expert on blues piano. Whilst both sides of his life are celebrated in this memoir, it focuses mainly on the latter.

Motivated by a desire to preserve as much as possible of the music that he loved, Francis privately recorded several visiting blues pianists at his home, Trumpets Farm, in 1960 and 1961. Unfettered by commercial or time constraints, his guests had free reign to play whatever they wished and produced some truly unique and outstanding performances. The intriguing stories behind these groundbreaking recordings is to be found within these pages.

To accompany this book, vintage jazz and blues reissue label Frog Records have released a special 27-track companion CD, Trumpets Farm Blues, containing previously unissued material from these legendary sessions.

"A truly fascinating book, a must for any lover of blues piano".
Alan White,

Check out Music Mentor Books:

Check out Frog Records:


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Title: Barefoot Blues
Author: Robbie Reay
Date Published: 2016
ISBN: 9781326800000
Synposis: Barefoot Bluesman Paul ‘Robbie Reay’ takes you on a soul-searching journey to find the crossroads, the real crossroads. He attempts to make sense of the Faustian myth that is selling your soul to the devil down at the crossroads. This book reflects his journey, with many references and facts, which will act as a guide for future blues pilgrims wishing to find their way home.
 Fictional Blues Related Books

Lil' Choo-Choo Johnson, Bluesman

Author: Bryan Krull
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Date Published: 2010
ISBN: 978-160844-355-0

Bryan’s Krull’s first novel is an imaginative journey through the world of the legendary bluesmen in the heyday of the 1920s to 1960s.  Drawing on facts that are well-documented and some well established traditional legends he adds his own spin through the invention of Lil Choo-Choo Johnson who was forced to leave home at the age of 10 armed only with a guitar and a formidable natural talent.  Working through the Delta Blues he plays with all the names you’d expect, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters et al.   At times it’s a slightly uncomfortable read as it’s not always clear how much is fact and how much is fiction but it’s entertainingly written and brings the world and characters of the Delta bluesmen alive.

Christine White, October 2010

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Title: Imagining Robert Johnson: A Fictional Account of the Bluesman
Author: David Singer
Publisher: David Singer
Date Published: 2014
ISBN: 978-150541-765-4

"Scores of books and articles attempt to capture the story of Robert Johnson. But so much of his life remains unknown. This small book tries to fill in those holes based on the spirit of his music.

As a music reviewer for a newspaper in upstate New York covering nearly 50 shows a year, I still hear the Delta bluesmen in the bones of today’s commercial music.This book is for those who hear that too--who hear the echo of Mr. Johnson leaving town, leaving a woman, waiting for his train, sitting against a tree strumming his guitar quietly".

 - Synopsis from David's blogspot


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Title: Fat Man Blues
Author: Richard Wall
Publisher: Amazon Kindle
Date Published: 2015
Synopsis: "Hobo John" is an English blues enthusiast on a pilgrimage to present-day Mississippi. One night in Clarksdale he meets the mysterious Fat Man, who offers him the chance to see the real blues of the 1930s. Unable to refuse this offer, Hobo John embarks on a journey through the afterlife in the company of Travellin' Man, an old blues guitarist who shows him the sights, sounds and everyday life in the Mississippi Delta. Along the way, the Englishman discovers the harsh realities behind his romantic notion of the music he loves and the true price of the deal that he has made.
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Title: Cross Dog Blues: Book One of a Great Long Story to Tell
Author: Richard M. Brock
Publisher: Bogie Road Publishing Ltd.
Date Published: 2015
ISBN: Amazon Kindle
Review: Richard M. Brock paints a gripping, funny and often harrowing picture of life in the Delta, then and now. Artfully combining fact and fiction, this is storytelling at its best, with a plot that surprises at every twist and turn.”
-  Steve Marshall, Fortean Time  

A heartening read, chock-full of poignant passages and insightful dialogue.”
- Kirkus Reviews



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