"Whether your tastes gravitate toward country and western, or pop standards, or doo-wop, or heavy metal, or hip hop or jazz... the whole spectrum of popular music betrays the fingerprints of the blues. The lonesomest cowboys and the most impassioned Christian vocalists; neatly coiffured boy bands and pierced, tattooed renegade rockers; faceless commercial jingle singers and American Idol wannabes: all share the vocal inflections, the scalar ambiguity, the grit-in-the-throat silt accumulated at the intersection of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers."
And with that, Ted Gioia demonstrates why this and other books devoted to the Mississippi Delta blues matter not only to those who already understand and appreciate the music. The best and worst of today's music crawled out of the primordial ooze of the Mississippi Delta, morphing into what we hear today. The spread and reach of the music of the Delta also tells about and accompanies sociological and cultural shifts of the 20th Century; the migration of African-American sharecroppers to northern, industrialized cities, the civil rights movement, the reign of the hippies and the "Summer of Love" among them.
The structure of Delta Blues is interesting and effective. Rather than simple chronology or strict adherence to only music made within the confines of the Mississippi Delta region, Gioia drops anchor in the Delta and follows each story line or practitioner on their journey through and from the Delta before returning to it to pick up the next.
The early portion of the book spends some time speculating and recounting the research done to discover the origin of the Delta blues. It turns out the origins are less Big Bang theory and more Christopher Columbus, 1492. We all know Columbus didn't get to America first, but his 'discovery' is a plot on the timeline from which many later historically significant events can be plotted. After presenting research and analysis about the African roots of the Delta tradition and other possible and likely early factors, Gioia reminds us that if there was a Big Bang moment it likely happened before Edison's invention of the phonograph. He briefly revisits the history of Edison's vital invention and then often considers the effect recorded music had on the Delta tradition. The earliest known recordings, or rather the earliest recordings to have survived and been preserved, are introduced.