This page will update weekly to include a new question for the books that we are currently reading. Once the book is done, the questions will be archived and this page will start anew with the next reading.
In the prologue of the book, Robert Palmer states:
Palmer discusses eight different cultural roots/features within blues music in the first chapter. He takes plenty of time to stress that these are learned cultural skills, and even if black people weren’t playing music, they were expected to be aware of or have these skills to be a fully participating member of the community. Therefore, the music comes from the culture. One example of musical skill learned from a cultural tradition is hambone, a game derived from juba, patting “performed by striking the right shoulder with one hand, the left with the other—all while keeping time with the feet, and singing,” which teaches polyrhythmic movement and music (37). Why is it important for people listening to blues music to be aware of the cultural roots of the blues?
What do you make of the description of the Dockery plantation? Is it romanticized, or do you think it’s fairly accurate? And if you read the book Slavery by Another Name, how do you evaluate the description of the Dockery plantation with that knowledge? Does the description as written do anything in particular for how we view the blues musicians and music played there?
Chapter three talked a lot about the history and music of Delta blues singer and guitarist Robert Johnson. What were your thoughts about Robert Johnson’s music the first time you heard it?
Sunnyland Slim, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon—these are a few of the many musicians Robert Palmer discusses in Chapter 4. What similarities in situation, experience, and musical innovation and training do you see in these musicians?
So often when we think of blues we think of the legend musicians, but far more people influenced blues music and made musical innovations that allowed for the legends to become legends. When Robert Palmer went to interview Robert Lockwood, he stated that Lockwood was pleasantly surprised when Palmer wanted to hear about his life rather than Robert Johnson’s. And Palmer got some fantastic stories and information from Lockwood afterward (177). What musicians’ stories have you learned in this book that have been your favorites so far? Why are they so memorable to you? And what ways do you think we can work to learn the stories of many blues musicians, not just the legends?