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I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy Hardcover – May 15 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
It's well researched, well written and informative. It also has a few useful appendices, including a discography of recommended Big Bill Broonzy recordings.
Overall, a worthwhile book if you're interested in blues history in general or Big Bill Broonzy in particular.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Bill recorded hundreds of songs, a large number of which he wrote himself. Between 1927 (his first recording) and 1947, he recorded 290 pieces, frequently demonstrating amazing guitar and vocal skills. In the period after 1947, to his death in 1958, Bill delighted audiences with his "I am a folk singer - the last of the bluesmen" persona, telling tales of life on the farm, in the US army, in the windy city and of love lost and found to say nothing of having fun - something Bill seems to have a penchant for. He often introduced himself by saying "My name is William Lee Conley Broonzy".
Bill regaled audiences with tales of his birth on 26 June 1893 and that of his twin sister Laney and of his father's response to being told he had twins to care for. He claimed to have served in the US Army in France from 1918 - 1919 and to have been invited by a record company to travel to the Delta following a major flood in 1927: Turns out, that a good deal of this was fiction. Robert Reisman's impeccable research suggests a birth date for Bill of 26th June 1903 and that Laney was not a twin at all but four years older than Bill. The reported army experience was Bill's factional description of an amalgam of the stories told by black soldiers returning from overseas. The alleged trip to the Mississippi Delta to see the flooding was similarly untrue, but was a factional account into which Bill inserted himself. It turns out too that Broonzy is not even his real name. He was born into the world with the name Lee Conly (note spelling) Bradley; and so it goes on. Bill Broonzy had a vivid imagination and a way of drawing people into his life that made you convinced he was telling the truth.
Reisman has done a magnificent job here in unpicking the fabric of time and re-arranging the pieces. But it must be understood that this revisionist work in no way affects the contribution made by Broonzy/Bradley to the blues and to music in general. His open manner and his life experience on the farm (he was a skilled plough hand - no doubt about that) and his sharp mind, allowed him to craft the most beautiful, funny and emotional lyrics and to learn to play the guitar in a way which more than 50 years after his death leaves some of us open mouthed with amazement. Reisman's writing style, the depth and breadth of his research and his clear affection for his subject, make this book a must for anyone with more than a passing interest in the blues and in the music of one of the genre's towering figures.
Another American icon of another generation - Will James - who came to symbolize the American West and who appeared to live through the golden sunset of the life of a working cowboy and whom wrote some beautiful books about his experiences was exposed to be a "poser." At that time, it seemed to a young reader to be a painful experience and as I reflect back on it, the material written about Mr. James was tinted with sarcasm and disrespect. The reader of this biography of Big Bill will find that the writer preserves Big Bill's and Lee Bradley's dignity. This book comes highly recommended.
"...when you write about me, please don't say that I'm a jazz musician. Don't say I'm a musician or a guitar player-just write Big Bill was a well known blues singer and player...he was a happy man when he was drunk and playing with women; he was liked by all the blues singers...". These are Broonzy's own words from his 1955 autobiography "Big Bill Blues", and they seem to sum up a lot about the man and his music, and what you'll read in this new, fine biography by Bob Riesman, who was co-editor of "Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage".
Capable of morphing his style into whatever was needed at the time, Broonzy was also adept at re-inventing himself (Bill Broonzy wasn't his real name) throughout his life-which he did. Broonzy wrote many, many songs (hundreds) throughout his career, arguably the most well known is "Keys To The Highway", which has been (and continues to be) played by most any blues artist worthy of the name. But other songs like "House Rent Stomp", "Big Bill's Blues" and "Just A Dream" are still played today. Broonzy bridged the gap between country blues, and the more modern electric blues heard in the big city. But he was also capable of belting out a folk tune, or a then popular song to please his audience.
Broonzy was one of the finest blues singers/guitarists of his era. His music was polished yet not overly slick, his vocals were smooth and flexible yet immediate. He recorded many albums of his own, and played as an accompanist to many other great musicians of his day. Broonzy could sing straight blues, folk songs, or popular songs of the era as needed. He also was highly influential on many up and coming British musicians (Clapton, Townshend, Davies, Beck, etc.) in the early days of blues/blues-rock. Back in the U.S., Broonzy influenced the then popular white folk-blues movement that was just beginning, and his style was emulated by many singers who, like their British counterparts, found in his music something exciting, something of value and interest.
This book traces Broonzy's life, from it's beginning up through his death-unable to speak-from cancer. The author has done a fine job up-dating the information currently available on Broonzy's life and movements. This is the first book that gets past Broonzy's own self created life. Broonzy, like other blues artists, was adept at story telling, and used that skill to either stretch or invent parts of a life which he felt more comfortable with. The author delves into, and reconstructs (as much as possible) Broonzy's real life, and the result is a much truer, accurate picture of Broonzy. But it's probably impossible to find out all the facts-the definitive account-of Broonzy's life-as it is with a number of other early blues artists. Dates, locations, even people are changed-or invented-for whatever reason. In that respect, Broonzy was no different than other blue artists of the time. For Broonzy fans, some parts of his life will be a revelation. But even if you're a casual fan of his music, Riesman has laid out a good picture of Broonzy, his music, and his surroundings-which brings out some of the flavor of those times.
After learning to play the guitar (his first instrument was the violin) in Chicago, to his Carnegie Hall appearance, singing at racial equality meetings/concerts, to his years spent in Europe-where he enjoyed a popularity not found in the U.S., the author has done a good job in laying out Broonzy's movements. He influenced Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, and many, many other up and coming musicians, who found in his blues something authentic. Information on Broonzy, from interviews are included in this fine book with Clapton, Townshend, and Davies, who reveal the importance of his music, and the impact it had on their own careers.
But just as important is Broonzy's personal life, and the author weaves Broonzy's life into his musical legacy-and taken as a whole-this book gives a full picture of just who "Big" Bill Broonzy was. The author's straightforward writing style keeps the book from bogging down, and keeps the interest level high. A fairly complicated life is revealed in an informative, easy to read style. The era during Broonzy's life also comes to light, which adds a stronger foundation, and adds depth and interest.
Broonzy was an important block in the foundation of blues music. If you haven't heard his music for whatever reason, look into any number of compilations or individual albums he recorded-the rewards are many. He influenced the great Muddy Waters, J.B. Lenoir, and many other blues artist of the day. He enjoyed popularity when alive, and for a while after his death. But the importance of his music slid in the face of other, "more authentic" bluesmen (Tampa Red, Blind Blake, etc.) from roughly the same period. And his popularity and importance continues to wax and wane over the years. Hopefully this great book will set things right, for "Big" Bill Broonzy was a good musician, singer, and composer. This book will tell you all about it.
If this is your cup of tea, look into the recently published "Mississippi John Hurt His Life, His Times, His Blues", by Philip Ratcliffe. Arguably not as well known as Broonzy, nonetheless, Hurt's music and life is equally as interesting, and the book is well done.
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