The Story of the Blues, by Paul Oliver. London: Penguin, 1969.
Reprinted with revisions by author: Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

Paul Oliver’s comprehensive history of the blues became an essential reference work after its publication in 1969. It remains one of the most valuable guides to the music, a densely detailed work that covers slave music, work songs, minstrel shows, barrelhouses, lumber camps, juke joints, vaudeville, urban ghetto blues, and more, all interwoven with information on some 800 performers. Oliver places their lives, lyrics and music in social, cultural and geographical contexts of the times. As in his other works, Oliver concentrates mainly on prewar blues, including the early urban and classic styles as well as country blues; relatively little space is allotted to postwar blues and R&B (either in the original 1969 book or the 1998 reprint). Unlike a number of other historical books on the blues, The Story of the Blues maintains a critical focus on the blues performers and their music rather than framing their saga as the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. In the 1998 reprint Oliver does acknowledge the influence blues has had worldwide and notes briefly how the realities and perceptions of blues and its culture changed in the decades since the 1960s.

–Jim O’Neal