The ‘America’s Gift’ book review in top UK music magazine ‘Blues In Britain’ is found between books on Steve Marriott and Mike Bloomfield.

The ‘America’s Gift’ review, on page 39, is between ‘All Or Nothing: The Authorised Story of Steve Marriott’ by Simon Spence and ‘Guitar King: Michael Bloomfield’s Life In The Blues’ by David Dann.

Steve Marriott

For younger readers, who may not know of these rock giants, Steve Marriott (1947 – 1991), late of the Small Faces, has been described as Britain’s greatest rock vocalist. American Mike Bloomfield (1943 – 1981), late of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was the guitarist Bob Dylan chose when he went electric. Both are legends in the pantheon of rock.

Mike Bloomfield

Here’s what journalist and blues performer John Phillpott wrote:

America’s Gift: The Untold Story of How Blues Evolved – Paul Merry (Amazon £12.95) 

“WHAT present would you give to the music fan who thinks they’ve read everything they need to know about the blues?

There’s only one answer to that – it’s this book. So ladies and gentlemen, meet Paul Merry, ex-pat Brit, and arguably Australia ’s leading authority on blues and jazz. 

And I don’t say this lightly. For Merry is without doubt a music detective who has left no stone unturned in his quest to dig down and find the roots of the art form that, over the last century, has single-handedly changed the listening habits of this planet.

His analysis of the music’s journey from field to concert hall is compelling. For example, Charlie Patton is widely regarded as the Father of the Delta Blues, the starting point of the story, along with W C Handy, about whom whole oceans of ink have been expended.

But who taught Patton his trade? Why, one Henry Sloan, that’s who. Merry also posts some interesting theories. For example, why have blues writers virtually ignored Lonnie Johnson?

The author reasons that researchers in the last century tended to concentrate on ‘primitive’ blues, championing rural players such as Mance Lipscomb and Mississippi Fred McDowell, and thereby neglecting the more sophisticated exponents such as Johnson.

Merry correctly identifies the latter as being the founding father of electric guitar blues, the trailblazer who perfected the single and double string slur, later to be adopted by T-Bone Walker, the three Kings, and finally by future 1960s rock gods such as Clapton, Beck and Hendrix.

The author approaches the story sequentially, from chronicling the work songs of the ante bellum South and touring ‘black face’ minstrelsy, to the more racially vicious ‘coon’ song period, then examines the great African-American migrations north in the early 20th century.

Intriguingly, he finds that the blues not only shares a kinship with the sea shanty, but with the bawdy shower room rugby song, too. 

Merry also looks at ‘halfway house’ players like Memphis Minnie, before tracing the advent of the Chicago variant that would lead to the rise of artists such as Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Memphis Slim.

But the male of the species certainly don’t hog all the glory, for Merry devotes much space to the women pioneers such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker.

There are indeed many precious stones to be unearthed on every page. One such gem is the grossly overlooked and under-rated Eddie Durham, who Merry identifies as being the first musician to lay down an electric guitar track in 1929. 

Then there’s the little known George Barnes, virtually the only Caucasian player of note in the book, and a gargantuan talent that has in the main been ignored by most commentators and music historians.

Packed with rare photographs, America ’s Gift is right up there with classic books such as Paul Oliver’s 1960s ground-breaking Conversation with the Blues, and richly deserves to be regarded in years to come as a classic work.”

John Phillpott

Thanks for such a great review, John.

In view of the comment below, please search for America’s Gift by Paul Merry at Amazon UK.

In the USA, you’ll find ‘America’s Gift’ here: