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Living Blues #204 • December 2009

It is a real pleasure to present this issue’s cover artist, Chick Willis. Chick is an old friend of Living Blues, having first appeared all the way back in LB #10 in 1972. And from that time forward it has one of his dreams to be on the cover of the magazine. Well, Chick, it took us a while, but here you go!  Happy 75th birthday! With over 50 years in the industry, Chick Willis has seen it all and has plenty to say about it. As he said back in 1972, “I am in blues because I am blues. I feel this and I know this better than anything else.”

            This issue’s historical article features Michael Abramson’s stunning photographs of Chicago’s South Side club scene in the mid-1970s. Abramson’s focus was on the fascinating array of patrons rather than the musicians, but the images still evoke the blues blasting out of those clubs. Strap on your sansabelt bell bottoms, pull on your polyester wide collared shirt, open up a Schlitz, and enjoy the ride back in time.

            Our story “Robert Johnson’s Census Records” in the last issue brought to the forefront a new wave of blues research sparked by digital access to various federal and state government records. Birth certificates, death certificates, census records, and military records, among others can now often be accessed with a click of the mouse. And, as Steve LaVere notes in his Johnson story, these findings often generate more questions than they answer. The story of the blues has, for the most part, been an oral tradition. We have spent decades recording the oral histories of men and women in the blues world, with very little documentation to back up what they said. For the most part, their oral accounts have become the accepted story of the blues. But the stories often also supported a mythology of the blues that many are happy to accept as fact. Stories of wandering Mississippi bluesmen like Robert Johnson often gloss over the fact that he also had a wife, a day laborer job, and a home, not to mention a guitar teacher other than the devil. Bluesmen who might have done a stint in jail for some small crime often over time became known as “murderers.” It’s a sexier story than stealing a mule. But today, with the work of men like LaVere, Jim O’Neal, Bruce Conforth, Bob Eagle, Eric LeBlanc, and many others, small pieces of documentation about early bluesmen are being uncovered and compared to the accepted story. It’s fascinating research that might pop a few bubbles about the blues—and help us develop a more grounded and accurate story of the blues to replace the mythology. See this issue’s Letters to the Editor section for further discussion on this topic.

            The 2010 Living Blues Symposium has once again been combined with the Blues and the Spirit Symposium held at Chicago’s Dominican University. Registration is now open for the event. For further information go to http://www.dom.edu/blues.

            In 2010 LB will celebrate our 40th anniversary, a milestone most magazines never reach. We are very proud to have documented the blues for four decades, recording the words and lives of hundreds of blues performers. I invite our readers to write in and share your experiences with LB through the years. Send your stories and thoughts to: Living Blues, Letters to the Editor, POB 1848, 1111 Jackson Ave. W., University, MS  38677 or e-mail me at Brett@livingblues.com.