How come your high school career counselor never offered you the option to be a Professor of the Blues? What a bloody great job!
We celebrate the much beloved American Doctor of the Blues, Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Memphis, Dr. David Evans. (There are several blues music scholars who are also serious musicians, including Adam Gussow, Professor at the University of Mississippi, a professional harmonica player and teacher, including with Satan and Adam.) The whole “keeping the blues alive” thing has become a trite cliché, but if ever it was actually deserved and ﬁtting it is in the case of Dr. Evans.
A “musicologist”, you might wonder, well what is that? Essentially it is a hardcore blues fan who has read everything there has ever been written on the subject, listened to every record has ever been made, has made it a point to study everything related to the subject in great detail to achieve a thorough and complete knowledge in a serious academic format. Ethnomusicologists conduct in-depth research, including ﬁeld interviews and recordings, publish scholarly articles and books about blues history and treat the subject seriously as historical folklorists and ethno-anthropologists. You might say they are super fans on steroids. While mere mortals collect records and read a few books, these scholars devote their life to the academic pursuit of the subject – and make a living at it.
Dr. David Evans is one of the most important contemporary blues musicologists and academics, the author of the seminal traditional folk blues history “Big Road Blues- Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues.” Among his many honors, he is recipient of the Fulbright award. He holds degrees from Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles, and is the author of “The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to the Blues” and many other publicatons. He has produced more than 50 albums of ﬁeld and studio recordings for the University of Memphis’ High Water Records. His resume far exceeds the scope of this website, but sufﬁce it to say that Dr. Evans knows a thing or two about the blues.
Okay, you might say, you like to hear the acoustic blues, but you are not into it to the point where you are interested in serious reading or studying. You just like to hear some good blues. All good. Dr. Evans is a historian, educator, ethnomusicologist, preservationist and performer, and thatʼs where it gets interesting. He is all that, but when he gets the guitar out and starts to play and sing it becomes clear that even if he was none of the other, he would be one of the ﬁnest acoustic blues performers in the USA today. Dr. Evans can play the old blues like the old masters, with a complete mastery of all kinds of blues tunings, picking styles, slide and regional styles and a vast encyclopedic song repertoire. He can play it as well as he can explain it. Not just a brilliant mind, he is a musically brilliant and extraordinary bluesman on his own right. Expectedly, he brings new life into more obscure and esoteric songs, preserving tunes that may have collected dust in the back corner of his record collection.
His publications include: Tommy Johnson (London: Studio Vista, 1971). Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982; paperback ed., New York: Da Capo, 1987). “The Coon in the Box”: A Global Folktale in African-American Tradition, by John Minton and David Evans (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2001). The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Blues (New York: Perigee, 2005).David Evans, ed., Ramblin’ on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008).
Check out his excellent CD “Matchbox Blues”, a ﬁne example of his musical prowess.
David Evans tours internationally when he is not teaching.
Dr. David Evanʼs was a contributor to Frank Matheisʼs radio documentary “I wish I was in heaven sitting down.”