The Country Blues; Typescript and Archive
New York: Rinehart, 1959. First Edition. Hardcover. 7 items: 1. 320–page original typescript, heavily corrected by Charters on nearly every page, with a thousand or so changes, additions, and deletions in his own handwriting, and the printer’s notes in red and purple crayon, pencil, and ink (the setting copy used to print the book and the only extant manuscript). Universally acknowledged as the first scholarly book length study of the blues, a groundbreaking workofhighcharismasaving,whatwasin1959, a disappearing art form(seebelow). The first 7 leaves (the preliminary pages) are on different paper stock that is browned, brittle, and chipped (no text has been lost). The rest of the manuscript (all on nicer, still white paper) has some light wear, marks, and staple assembly, otherwise it is very good. But what is most important about the condition is that it is all here, and it is authentic, and influential, and it effervesces with character (see below). Awesome case, in 1/2 Maroquin du cap. Very good / very good. Item #774
2–3. 2 sets of long galley proofs for the printed preliminaries dated Aug. 6 and
Aug. 27. These have some thoughtful changes between them.
4–5. A pair of 1st editions, very good in very good dustjackets, one with the
usual copyright page, the other one with 4 rubberstamped song copyrights in blue ink.
6. A Folkways Records LP album of the same name was issued to complement the book, with 14 cuts, most recorded between 1927 and 1931, from 12 of the bluesmen and 2 of the groups profiled in the book (Washboard Sam, Blind Willie Johnson, Peg Leg Howell, Leroy Carr, Big Bill, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bukka White, Tommy McClennon, Sleepy John Estas, Blind Willie McTell, and Robert Johnson, along with The Memphis Jug Band and Cannon’s Jug Stompers), well representing the musicians and styles, (a fine 2nd pressing of the vinyl LP is here too).
7. Da Capo Press reprinted the book in 1975 with a new author introduction. Included is the disassembled, hand revised, and reassembled, Rinehart 1st edition used by Charters and De Capo to create the new edition, with markups, corrections, paste–ins, and Charters’ signed note on the endpaper (a splendid item on its own).
From the post–Civil War field cries and work chants of Southern Blacks came a rich and vital music called the blues, an intensely personal expression of the pains and pleasures of African American life. Early sheet music publishing of vaudeville songs with “blues” in their titles trace to 1908, and recordings of them trace to 1914, but they were not the real blues. The true songs, from the darkest reaches of life but almost always with a wry humor, were first recorded in the late 1920s, by men like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Texas Alexander, Bo Weavil (sic) Jackson, and Peg Leg Howell, however, by 1940 they were belittled as reminiscent of slavery, were not being widely sung anymore, and had evaporated from the memories of all but a few.
In 1951 Samuel Charters was an economics student at The University of California, Berkeley in love with music. He began traveling back and forth from California to New Orleans to better study jazz and the blues, and their historical and traditional connections, but his feelings got particularly taken by the lyrics of the blues and their mid–19th century origins. So, he reset his aims, focused on the blues, and quickly realized that he was racing against a great, impending artistic loss to save the roots, effects, and results of a vanishing genre. He roamed the South, from Georgia to Texas in 8 years of range work hoping to write a book that might be an elixir of formal, comprehensive, and devoted scholarly research. Then, in the late 1950s there was a folk music revival that suggested a new and potentially appreciative audience. Charters’ pioneering study of an unjustly neglected music gave the blues to that potential audience. His book recreated the special world of the country bluesman, that lone Black performer accompanying himself on his acoustic guitar, the songs a reflection of his own emotional life, and it reconstructed the blues’ origins, evolution, and dissemination, from the first, tentative, 19th century soundings on the Mississippi Delta. Charters’ carefully researched biographies of raw performers (Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, etc.), coupled with his perceptive discussions of their recordings, paid tribute to a breed of primal artistry that will never be heard again. And his portraits of Sonny Terry, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, etc. showed the blues’ continuing vitality and strength (partly rewritten from De Capo).
Few books can be said to have had a resurrecting impact, like this one, on any disappearing, but now prevailing, discipline of arts and culture. Further, the blues are purely American, this manuscript and its accompanying archive are pure Americana, and we think it should stay in the United States. So, though we are commercial sluts and usually sell our wares to the first person ordering them who has the coin, we will not export this gathering and only sell it to somebody inside the U. S.
Awfully cool and organically heavy, a rare union these days. A manuscript archive of such impact that, being for sale, it is so close up that it can be hard to focus on it properly.