Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holger Petersen – Talking Music: Blues Radio and Roots Music

Talking Music: Blues Radio and Roots Music
By Holger Petersen
Insomniac Press
326 pages

Holger Petersen’s primary gig for the past 35 years has been running Edmonton-based Stony Plain Records, which he’s built into one of the world’s premiere roots music labels. He is also a veteran and much-respected host of two weekly blues radio programs, Natch’l Blues on the Alberta-wide public station CKUA (for more than 40 years), and Saturday Night Blues on CBC (for 25).

Holger’s an excellent interviewer – I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many he’s done in his combined 65 years of weekly broadcasts – and he’s taken transcriptions from 19 of what must be the among the best and turned them into a page-turner for anyone who’s fascinated with great blues and roots artists, producers and musicologists.

As it happens, I’m familiar with the work of all of Holger’s subjects in Talking Music: Blues Radio and Roots Music. I know a couple of them, have met a few others, and have interviewed some of them myself. Despite that familiarity, I was drawn into these interviews and could hear the voices – and Holger’s – in my head as I read their words.

There are lots of fascinating stories here: David “Honeyboy” Edwards on the death of Robert Johnson; legendary musicologist Alan Lomax talking about the discovery of Lead Belly and decrying the state of contemporary blues; Jay McShann on his early days in Kansas City and having a kid sax player named Charlie Parker in his band; Ian Tyson on both his early folk days and the renaissance of cowboy culture; Chris Barber talking about the first British blues tours he organized for legends like Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; Jeff Healey on his love for traditional jazz; Lucinda Williams on her early Folkways records; Sam Phillips on recording artists like B.B. King and Elvis Presley early in their careers; Eric Bibb and his dad, Leon Bibb, talking about their relationships with Paul Robeson; and, so many, many more.

All the people in this book – famous or not – are important figures in the history of music and the insights in these interviews serves to enhance appreciation for them and their work.

--Mike Regenstreif

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