The Digital Journalist

Honeyboy Edwards
"State of the Blues"


These artists created the blues and made it theirs. Nearly without exception, they hailed from Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and East Texas. They "came up" before the first world war, in the rural South, clearing the Delta and working in the cotton fields. They got together to play the Blues in each other's homes, at dances, fish-fry's or in makeshift clubs known as "Jook Joints." It is said that this music grew out of negro spirituals, gospel music, the chain gangs, ragtime. Whatever its musical heritage, it came from having "the blues." These motivations and experiences no longer exist. Today's bluesmen are not working in the fields from sunrise to sunset as their predecessors did. Can you really create new strains of Blues Music without having the Blues? Of course everyone can have the blues in different ways, and this can flow through their music. Many of today's bluesmen are perhaps more proficient than their predecessors in playing their instruments but will they have the soul-searching experience to draw upon? It is said that the great Albert Collins drove a tractor much of his life. John Lee Hooker left Clarksdale, Mississippi to work as a janitor in Detroit City. Billy Boy Arnold drove a bus in Chicago for twenty years after recording his 1956 seminal harmonica work with Bo Diddley in "I'm a Man." Muddy Waters worked on the Stovall Plantation outside of Clarksdale as a young man.

Thus, I realized I had only a small window to record the faces of the remaining second-generation blues artists such as Walter "Brownie" McGhee, "Koko" Taylor, James "Snooky" Pryor, Etta James, James Cotton, Charles Brown, John Lee Hooker, Big Jay McShann, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and others. Many were made at the House of Blues, others at the 1995, 1996 and 1997 Long Beach Blues Festivals, others at the Blue Cafˇ in Long Beach. I've made these portraits in small corners, of crowded clubs, hallways, even stairwells. A few, such as Linda Hopkins, Gregg Allman and Guitar Shorty, came to my studio.

In addition to these portraits of the Legends of Blues, I spent approximately eight weeks in the South creating a series called "The Blue Highway," a documentary series of black and white portraits of the Mississippi Delta, Northern Louisiana and Eastern Texas, the birthplaces of the BLUES. My intent was to marry the faces and the places, although not literally. I wanted to feel the place where the music was born. I wanted to understand the lives they lived and the world from which they wanted to escape.

Los Angeles
January 1998

State of the Blues: The Living Legacy of the Delta
is available at

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