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Railroadin' Some

Railroads in the early Blues

Max Haymes

This groundbreaking book, written by one of the foremost blues historians in the UK, is based on over 30 years' research, exploration and absolute passion for early blues music.  It is the first ever comprehensive study of the enormous impact of the railroads on 19th and early 20th century African-American society and the many and varied references to this new phenomenon in early blues lyrics.


"This fairly dense and scholarly book is on a fascinating topic...and , as with many books like this, you'd probably want to pull out the tracks mentioned and hear them while reading about the artists and their times... An especially fascinating chapter for me was the one on blues musicians' relationships to circuses which traveled on the railroads. My great grandpa (died 1937, I never knew him) owned a traveling circus, and my grandma told stories about performing with the black singers when she was like 3-5 years old. That circus was too small to make mention in the book, but it was fun looking for it!" Blue Suede News

"I promise to make no jokes about blues collectors and train spotters. I really do, because here is a new book that skilfully combines those two obsessions and, in doing so, weaves a fresh and insightful view of their oft-entwined histories... What Max Haymes has attempted to do here – successfully in my view – is explore the relationship between an emerging technology and an emerging music; how the blues was affected by railroad work and travel, how African-American lives benefited and sometimes suffered as a result of both; how the blues was, in part, shaped by the opportunities that rail travel -paid or not- offered and how that experience shaped their reflections, caught in the lyrical images preserved on early blues recordings.

     I should perhaps point out that the subtitle, “Railroads in the Early Blues” is pretty strict; there is little discussion here of post 1950 experience, but much of developments in both fields during the 18th and 19th centuries. For railroads, available early history is quite detailed, but the mists of time have always shrouded the origins of the blues; we still don’t know for certain where the first blues were sung, by whom, accompanied by what or how they sounded.  With railroads, we can discover the dimensions of the last fly-wheel or the first two tone whistle, so there is some disproportion in the available research, and Haymes has done well in striking a balance. Of necessity, the great bulk of the blues research here is drawn from recordings, mostly from the 1920’s and 1930’s, accompanied by full blooded discographical detail and – in my view – extremely accurate lyric transcripts.  This allows the author’s conclusions to be offered in some depth – for there are over 300 pages of text sewn together here – and while I might want to take issue with one or two stretched points, the theories expounded are well thought out and backed by the best of circumstantial evidence and insightful readings of the research.

     All that said, this is neither a volume for the novice or casual reader, and even committed fans are faced with a serious, in-depth narrative. I have no problem with this, for many books about the blues published this last decade or so have been pretty facile and in some cases should have been strangled at birth. This is not one of them. With a good selection of relevant illustrations, very accurate indexing, an accessible and relevant discography, I would recommend this to anyone serious about the subject. Perhaps the best praise I can offer is that it often felt like I was reading a Paul Oliver text."  Folk Roots

"The high standard of writing and research is maintained in every chapter of this riveting blues railroad journey... All chapters are absolutely enthralling, and reminded me of when I first read the ground-breaking classic by Arnold Shaw, Honkers And Shouters.  There is so much information in these pages it is mind bending, but in a good way!... I recommend you get a ticket "long as your right arm" and go out and get this book: it is a MUST for all blues fans, and a most unique and refreshing way of presenting a book on our favorite subject, "The Blues". Hats off to Music Mentor for this one! A+A+Plus. ESSENTIAL reading."  Holler

"Not only is Haymes’ book as valuable a document as Paul Oliver’s classic The Story of the Blues (1969) - Railroadin’ Some also raises the stakes by explaining the freight trains’ symbolic importance to such familiar but hardly self-explanatory blues-song phrases as “smokestack lightnin’,” “where the Southern cross’ the Yellow Dog” and “ridin’ the blind”. The book is nothing less than the definitive survey of the railroads’ long-term impact upon American life and musical expression."  Business Press/Homestyle

"This is a marvellous piece of work, because it not only documents hundreds of railroad-influenced Blues recordings, complete with fascinating, illustrative snatches of lyrics; it is also a thorough exploration of the enormous impact the railroads of the 19th and 20th century had on African-American society... If you love Americana, have a passion for detailed history, and above all, relish the early Blues, then this book should have pride of place on your shelves." Blues Matters!


Published: 31 July 2006

ISBN: 978-0-9547068-3-8

Format: Paperback

Edition: First

Extent: 390 pages

Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm

RRP: £23.99

Our price: £20.99 + p&p

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Railroadin' Some