The Blues had a baby,’ the Muddy Waters song title declares, ‘ and they named it ‘Rock and Roll.” Most books on Blues and Rock seem to lead their readers to believe that Rock came from the stork or the cabbage patch. Not so in Arnold Shaw’s Honkers and Shouters; it talks with the midwives and the obstetricians who delivered Rock themselves. Nineteen years after its initial publication, Honkers and Shouters still offers a thorough exploration through Rhythm and Blues towards the earliest glimmers of white Rock.

What sets Shaw’s book apart from the usual Blues narratives is the inclusion of performers usually overlooked by Blues listeners such as Roosevelt Sykes, Louis Jordan, Mahalia Jackson, Cecil Grant, Larry Williams, Little Richard, James Brown and all those Doo-Wop groups. These and the other performing artists Shaw mentions are not token inclusions, but functional players in the overall history that Shaw wishes to set down. The result is a book that hints at the dialogues behind the artistic and commercial decisions made by performers and record executives, and indicates the chords that were played and studied at the recording studios before and during the sessions.

Although not pandering to the fans of the one particular type of music, Shaw’s book has earned the genuine respect of all kinds of readers. My own introduction to Honkers and Shouters came from a jazz collector in Buffalo seven years ago, when I was a graduate student in music history and bibliography. The collector was especially interested in the types of Black music between 1945 and 1970, thus he was conversant about Rhythm and Blues and Doo-Wop as well as Bebop and Free Jazz. One day, while we were talking about John Coltrane’s early years, my collector friend asked, ‘Have you read Honkers and Shouters?’ When I shook my head no, he recommended it: ‘It has a lot of stuff, including facts about Earl Bostic and King Curtis and Louis Jordan and all these other artists whom most people have forgotten about or never heard of.’ So I found a copy in my university music library, and indeed the book had so much detail, it took me three months to read it once through.

What makes Honkers and Shouters work is that Arnold Shaw does not take Bostic, Curtis, Jordan or any other artist for granted. Rather, to Shaw, each performer and record producer had their historical role to play and he allows them to their stories according to their respective roles. No one is quoted to excess; if someone was cheated in record royalties, he or she was allowed to say so, but not to continue that he or she was later cheated in love or law or anything else unrelated to the business of writing, performing, or recording music. The resulting narrative moves according to each musical, technological and industrial development, so that the advent of white Rock and Roll musicians into Blues studios like Sun are seen not as an intrusion, but as an inevitable consequence.

Honkers and Shouters first appeared in 1978 and was reprinted in 1986. Today, Books in Print lists this book as ‘out of stock indefinitely,’ which in its way shows that all copies are sold out. Let us hope this book returns to the shelves in a new printing soon. In writing Honkers and Shouters, Shaw was not content to merely celebrate the music; he restored the inside dynamics among the people and events in the Rhythm and Blues industry. A great record leads its listeners to weigh the same choices that its creators had and this book helps to explain the professional decisions that were made.

— (Blues Foundation press release, 1997.)