This week’s radio show features an interview with British blues and country music scholar Tony Russell, who visited Oxford back in February. The main topic is of early white performers of blues, such as Jimmie Rodgers, Darby and Tarlton, Frank Hutchinson, and Jimmie Davis.
In the early ’70s Tony wrote the paperback Blacks, Whites and Blues, which was very influential in terms of highlighting the similarities in the repertoires and the cross influences of early African American and white rural musicians in the South. About five years ago the book was reissued together with Paul Oliver’s book Savannah Syncopators (on the African roots of blues) and John Goodrich and Robert Dixon’s book Recording the Blues in the volume Yonder Comes the Blues.
In the early ’70s Tony also founded the magazine Old Time Music, which became the authoritative source on old time country. Many of the profiles he wrote for the magazine were recently republished in the volume Country Music Originals. Tony and fellow British blues scholar Chris Smith were also the primary authors of the recent book Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, which contains biographies of a wide range of blues artists from the beginning of the recording era to thepresent and summaries of thousands of albums.
I’ve had the fortune to meet Tony on numerous occasions, including in London and at the unveiling of the first Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Holly Ridge at the site of Charley Patton’s burial place. This year I had the honor (thanks to Mary Katherine Aldin!) of sitting on a panel at the Folk Alliance in Memphis on the topic of “Blacks, Whites and Blues” with Tony, Tom Freeland, and Henrique Prince, the violinist and vocalist of the African American string band the Ebony Hillbillies. As you’ll hear on the show, Tony is very eloquent on the topic and a hell of a nice guy.