The Worlds of R. A. Hortz
The Language of the Blues

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The Language of the Blues from Alcorub to Zuzu

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The Language of the Blues from Alcorub to Zuzu
By Debra DeSalvo
Billboard Books, New York: 2006
ISBN: 0-8230-8389-6

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - Posted July 12, 2012

The Language of the Blues from Alcorub to Zuzu, by Debra DeSalvo is a phenomenal resource that crosses many academic and avocational disciplines. The Language of the Blues is part dictionary and part history book in that it provides definitions for terms associated with the Blues, while also putting these terms into a historic and social perspective.

The Blues is a unique musical style that is associated with its own unique terminology. It is only by understanding the terms and phrases used in Blues songs that you can truly begin to appreciate the meaning and sentiments the Blues. In this text, DeSalvo not only provides detailed definitions of these unique Blues terms, but she also examines the historical and social significance of each term. These definitions are enhanced by the inclusion of notations listing some of the songs that each term has been used in, as well as background information on the various artists that have used them. In the course of presenting this information, DeSalvo has incorporated insightful biographical tidbits of information on the artists. She has also included excerpts from interviews that she conducted with a wide range of Blues artists including: Bob Margolin, Michael Bloomfield, Bonnie Raitt, Sam Taylor, Dr. John, and Hubert Sumlin. The text is also embellished by the inclusion of photos of some of the icons of the Blues movement, from W.C. Handy and Blind Lemon Jefferson to Memphis Minnie and Lucille Bogan.

This book is an essential reference guide, not only for those interested in Blues music, but also for social historians, writers' looking to add color to a story, those studying the development of African-American slang, as well as anyone interested in enjoying a unique lexical reference guide. It is also a 'must-have' for anyone simply interested in learning the meaning behinds those terms which have become part of the popular culture, such as C.C. Rider, Salty Dog, and Hoosegow, or for those looking for the meaning of more arcane terms such as Doney, gallinipper, and passagreen.

The Language of the Blues is a diverting and enlightening book to read. DeSalvo writes in a jaunty, conversational style, and she is not shy when it comes to including, and clearly defining, some of the more risque terms that you'll find in Blues lyrics. The Language of the Blues is not a dour dictionary. Rather it is a vibrant work of social commentary that you may well find yourself reading through in one sitting. This is also a book that you'll enjoy scanning through at random, hunting for dainty morsels to satisfy your etymological appetite. For those looking for specific terms, the entries are listed alphabetically. The book concludes with a brief bibliography and endnotes that can be used as a starting point for further study into this intriguing field.

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