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I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy Hardcover – May 15 2011

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 15 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226717453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226717456
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 658 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #491,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"He was one of the most celebrated blues artists of his era, a visionary Chicago singer-songwriter who mentored Muddy Waters, introduced the music to Europe and inspired no less than Eric Clapton, Ray Davies and Pete Townshend (as they've all acknowledged).
But Big Bill Broonzy has been virtually forgotten by the popular culture he helped shape. . . . Which is why an important new book, I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy, comes not a moment too soon. In its pages, author Bob Riesman pieces together fragments of a hitherto under-documented life, giving Broonzy's achievements the honor they deserve."
(Howard Reich Chicago Tribune)

“Riesman does an excellent job of sifting through conflicting accounts of Broonzy’s marital and workforce history, often presenting multiple sides of the tales. He used a bewildering array of sources to help draw his conclusions, going through numerous archives, museums and music societies, as well as talking to those who were there for another point of view. . . . This book perceptively tells it all.”


"Wonderful. . . . With skill and sensitivity, Riesman has traced [Big Bill Broonzy's] scattered families and friends, and the letters, photographs and tapes they preserved, to fashion an intricately stitched patchwork of a life, and one of the great blues biographies."

“Compelling. . . . An important contribution to the literature of the blues as well as Chicago musical history.”

(Booklist (starred review) 2011-05-01)

“This book sets Bill’s extraordinary life and career in meticulously researched perspective. . . . If rock ‘n’ roll and all its recent spawn can in any sense be regarded as art, or carries any social meaning, or transmits reflective or historical relevance to those who love it, this book will help to explain why.”

(Pete Townshend)

“Bob Riesman has dug hard and deep into a world and a community to which few outsiders have been granted entrance. . . . This is the kind of book so engaging it simply leaves you wanting more.”

(Peter Guralnick, from the Foreword)

“Big Bill Broonzy was one of the most influential African American blues artists in the 1930s and 1940s and the leading figure in the spread of blues to Europe in the 1950s. Up to now, much of his life has been shrouded in mystery and fable, largely created by Broonzy himself. Bob Riesman’s book lifts the veil and reveals a life that was every bit as interesting as the legend.”
(David Evans, author The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to the Blues 2010-10-29)

“I knew Big Bill Broonzy in the 1940s and ’50s, near the end of his life. He was a great man, and one of the great musical artists of the twentieth century, as well as an intellectual, a term usually given to college people. I think he was genuinely reaching out all his life to different people. If it’s possible to put his story into words, Bob Riesman has done it in this book.”

(Pete Seeger 2011-02-21)

“Interesting and thorough. . . . Riesman has given readers a deeper understanding of Broonzy's astonishing achievements and how his legacy affected the social and musical landscape thereafter.”
(All About Jazz)

“After reading this biography, I have ungrudging affection and respect for Big Bill, admiration for his skills and acceptance of his foibles.”
(Boston Blues Society)

I Feel So Good is a worthy tribute to a fine artist.”
(Literary Review)

“With the fascinating and well-researched story Riesman tells in I Feel So Good, one wonders why the world does not know more about this bluesman.”

(Express Milwaukee)

About the Author

Bob Riesman is coeditor of Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage. He produced and co-wrote the television documentary American Roots Music: Chicago, and was a contributor to Routledge’s Encyclopedia of the Blues.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very good biography of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa23c7108) out of 5 stars 11 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5a37938) out of 5 stars Revisionist text is a must to read June 13 2011
By Ian K. Mckenzie - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Big Bill Broonzy was a hugely influential performer who overcame the endemic racism and Jim Crow laws in the southern states at the beginning of the last century, and went on (in Chicago) to found, almost single-handedly, a branch of blues music (small tight groups with guitar, piano, bass, drums, occasional harmonica or trumpet or sax and with front vocal) which spread from its Chicago base across the world. When that genre failed to provide Bill with sufficient income/ stimulation, he reinvented himself as a (mainly) solo performer, selling himself as a son of the soil and as a raconteur who claimed (and commented on) links to slavery and to the grinding poverty of life in Mississippi and Arkansas at the start of the 20th Century.

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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2abebdc) out of 5 stars Outstanding read Aug. 20 2011
By B. Laurence - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This monumental work is one of the very best Blues Bio you can ever own. Impeccably researched and far reaching in its scope, it is truly a must read for anyone interested in classic and modern Blues history, it's relationship with English Rock'n Roll, Trad Jazz, and the amazing journey of a major African-American American artist. Much of the Big Bill enigma is revealed, from intimate personal details, to how exactly he was the first solid and long lasting bridge to bring the Blues to Europe in person and on record. But what found fascinating is BBB's crucial role in the growth of the early Chicago Blues (and Folk too)scene. To hear Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Little Walter, Ray Davies speak of him with such warmth and emotion is priceless. I have been a BBB fan for decades. As with many Europeans in my case, he was my first contact with the Blues, and sparkled a fascination with American music. I actually moved to the USA and collect, play and teach American Blues and Folk music. This biography is remarkable in bringing out the Soul of the Man. Its many surprises and treasures all underline and match what the recordings reveal: a direct honesty, wisdom and self-knowledge we can all draw from. This outstanding read, while being the best Blues reference book in my collection, is also a deeply soulful, emotional page turner. I know I will read it again. With my deepest gratitude, Mr Riesman, thank you.Bertrand Laurence
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5db5908) out of 5 stars Love it... July 4 2011
By Idaho John - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I came to Big Bill late in life. I started with Robert Johnson and then graduated to Cream and from there to the Allman Brothers and missed so much in between. It is only after picking up the guitar again in late middle age that I came across Big Bill. The other far anyway, pay tribute to the musical versatility, acknowledge his skill with the guitar and in this book, his ability to reinvent himself - a chameleon as it were. But as I said in another review, it is the emotion in his music that captures me. Regardless of who or whom Big Bill was or claimed to be, he was first and foremost (in my mind at least) a consummate purveyor of emotion. And regardless of what motivated it, he was able to create a space in which the audience is invited to be a part of his experience. That is what makes him so important to me personally - I am privileged to be a part of Big Bill's journey from Arkansas to a wider world. Selfishly, I learn more about myself as part of a larger American experience as a result.

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.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2eb7288) out of 5 stars THE BEST BOOK ON BROONZY'S MUSIC AND LIFE TO DATE June 13 2011
By Stuart Jefferson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
3 page Forward by Peter Guralnick, 2 page Appreciation by Pete Townshend, 2 page Preface, 9 pages of Acknowledgments, 255 pages of text, 3 pages of a Selected Discography, 2 pages of Broonzy on film, plus extensive chapter notes and Index. Also included are 16 pages of b&w photographs throughout Broonzy's life. The paper used in this book meets the requirements for permanent paper. The end papers are a purplish color, with a textured swirly feel to it-a nice touch.

"...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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa24a2210) out of 5 stars Finally, a benchmark for Big Bill Broonzy June 29 2011
By Gary T. Johnson - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
We know the music, finally we know the man. Big Bill Broonzy was a key figure in Chicago blues and a force in the folk music revival of the 1950s. He collaborated with Chicago greats such as Studs Terkel and Win Stracke. He was heard on WFMT radio and performed at the opening of the Old Town School of Folk Music. He copyrighted hundreds of songs and was widely recorded. He performed in Europe. We didn't know the man, it turns out, because the usual details of a life were unclear, even his place of birth. Broonzy himself took pleasure in obscuring these details. Thanks to the meticulous work of Bob Riesman, now we have the life and we also have the times. Anyone wanting to learn more about the music that emerged from Chicago's mid-twentieth-century crucible will want to turn to this book.