7 Essential Books for Fans of Delta Blues

If you're a fan of Delta blues, get your mojo working with these 7 essential Delta books.
photo illustration of hands playing an acoustic guitar

Get your mojo working with these essential Delta resources.

Deep Blues by Robert Palmer

This musical and cultural history traces the blues from its roots in West Africa to the Mississippi Delta to urban Chicago and beyond. Author Robert Palmer, a Little Rock, Arkansas native, served as the chief pop-music critic for the New York Times and became a frequent contribute to Rolling Stone, Atlantic Monthly, and other publications. He never forgot his Southern roots or the deep, primordial sounds he heard growing up in the Delta region. Well researched and beautifully written, in the chapter “Mojo Hand,” Deep Blues chronicles the influence of such Delta heavyweights as Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Blind Blake. The book served as the basis for the critically acclaimed 1991 UK documentary film Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads, directed by Robert Mugge and featuring British pop star and blues enthusiast Dave Stewart and several of the region’s musicians.

Deep Blues is available at these online retailers:

The Land Where the Blues Began by Alan Lomax

In the 1930s, Library of Congress archivist and blues aficionado Alan Lomax visited the Mississippi Delta with his folklorist father, John Lomax. Alan went on to document the music of the region, including Muddy Waters’ historic 1941-1942 field recordings at Stovall’s Plantation on the banks of the Mississippi River. Waters would go on to help craft Chicago blues, but Lomax continued to amass a treasure trove of music and other recordings before writing this fascinating personal history of his work. Recipient of a National Book Critics Circle Award.

The Land Where the Blues Began is available at these online retailers:

Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942 edited by Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov

Alan Lomax seldom acknowledged that he had three African-American scholars from Fisk University in Nashville–John W. Work, Lewis Wade Jones, and Samuel C. Adams, Jr.–researching material for his Library of Congress field work. But six decades later, more than 100 insightful essays on rural Mississippi life surfaced and finally gave these authors the recognition they deserved.

Lost Delta Found is available at these online retailers:

Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters by Robert Gordon

Robert Gordon, who penned the tremendous 2001 blues and rock history It Came from Memphis, set his sights on the Mississippi farmhand who electrified and urbanized the blues, helping to shape the sound of rock with his stuttering vocals and razor-sharp slide.

Can’t Be Satisfied is available at these online retailers:


Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music by Ted Gioia

Jazz and blues historian Ted Gioia tackles the often uncertain biographies of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, and others who cultivated their art in the land that lies between the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Publishers Weekly noted: “He often deconstructs myths, such as the story that both Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson made midnight deals with the devil at the crossroads, and digs deep to clarify many murky stories, including untruths and wild speculations about the life and early death of Robert Johnson.”

Delta Blues is available at these online retailers:

Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues by Philip R. Ratcliffe

Born in Avalon, Mississippi, John Hurt would come to personify the region’s sound with his rustic fingerstyle playing after being “rediscovered” in time for the 1960s folk and blues revival. But Hurt first recorded in 1928 and his tale extends far beyond his stints on college campuses and the festival circuit. Fifty years after his death, this master guitarists and storyteller continues to mesmerize acoustic-blues guitarists.


Mississippi John Hurt is available at these online retailers:

Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald

Because you can’t underplay the role Robert Johnson had in defining the Delta blues. Music biographer Elijah Wald (who edited The Mayor of MacDougal Street, Dave van Ronk’s insightful autobiography) shows how Johnson’s music has lured white audiences and helped disseminate the Delta blues from its humble origins in rural Mississippi to millions around the globe.


Escaping the Delta is available at these online retailers:

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Greg Cahill
Greg Cahill

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