Serious scholarship. That’s what you’re getting in this book, folks. No fluff here!
If you, like me, don’t have much formal music education, and you don’t play an instrument, you may decide after a few pages to put Ramblin’ on my Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues aside. If you do this, you’ll be making a serous mistake because this collection is worthwhile, informative and in many ways groundbreaking. When I began reading the first selection in this collection, “Bourdon, Blue Notes, and Pentatonism in the Blues,” by Gerhard Kubik, I found myself saying “Huh?” It can be a difficult read, but it’s worth the time and effort to work your way through it. What isn’t groundbreaking is interesting and offers some different slants on the way we look at some of the things people have been talking about in the blues for years. In plainspeak, the contents of this collection are a must-read for any serious student of the blues.
Ramblin’ is an anthology of ten separate pieces offering looks at, opinions of, and views toward various aspects of the blues that few have thought of but are all the same necessary for a deeper understanding of the blues - and of some of its more famous musicians. The writings discuss the African influence on blues, Southern vaudeville, W.C. Handy, the hands of blues guitarists, Bumble Bee Slim, Black Boy Shine, Son House, Robert Johnson, the “St. Louis Blues,” and wraps up with a piece on Houston Creoles and Zydeco.
But coming back to Kubik’s piece, when I said you may want to throw the book aside, it’s definitely not because it’s not a compilation of good essays. It’s damned good. However, unless you’ve got some good music theory and education in your Curriculum Vitae, you may find much of it taxing, a little beyond your understanding. Work your way through it, though - you’ll be rewarded, and all the richer for it.
The title is, of course, from a Robert Johnson song that’s been covered by perhaps a thousand other musicians. But the content of this collection has not, for the most part, been covered. If it has, these compositions offer fresh, new looks and interpretations, and plow new ground.