Reporting out of sunny Tenerife, where I got to spent some time relaxing with the family and catching up on reading The Rough Guide to The Blues. Unfortunately I haven’t found any records to take back home despite an afternoon crate digging at Rock Shop Ozz Tenerife. Such is the game, as the odds of finding an incredible rare record or just something interesting are stacked against you the more you collect.
The store itself was very nice and worth visiting even knowing upfront that it was mostly rock orientated and thus not particularly what I collect. Apart from the more Rock affiliated genres, styles and memorabilia they also have a decent amount of Blues records on offering. This was the reason I took a chance since I’m trying learn more about the Blues as some might remember from my trip to Liege. Going back home empty-handed is always disappointing, but what I did gain next to a nice afternoon browsing is a renewed energy to further deepen my knowledge about the Blues. It has been a long time ago since I felt so out of place going through the bins not knowing what records to set aside and what records to ignore. The owner was so friendly to keep her store open while she would normally go on a lunch break during the hottest moment of the day. Not sure she was so happy with it after I left without buying anything. There were some others in the shop as well, so I hope they bought at least something to make up for the possible disappointment I left the owner with.
By now, you might be wondering what this is all about? You are not alone. With the energy levels renewed, I was eager to get back into reading the excellent The Rough Guide to The Blues while listening to some of the suggested playlists through my headphones. With that in mind and the fact that I also enjoyed very much reading The Rough Guide to Reggae front to back many years ago, I decided to buy all the Rough Guides I could get my hands on for the genres I’m interested in and that have rave reviews. The books I was chasing after all appeared to be out of print for a while already and even the official website of Rough Guide doesn’t provide much help is this regard. They seem to have abandoned the extensive book format instead focusing on releasing Vinyl, CD or digital compilations to introduce you to a specific genre, style or artist. So, you are left to your own devices browsing the internet for second hand copies which often have a hefty price tag depending on the title and condition. Some of the titles are extremely well received by readers, critics and insiders worldwide with some being named as the authority when it comes to the respective genre. If you are looking to expand your knowledge or dip your toe into a new genre, the Rough Guide book series offers a great entry point that will last many years. I recommend tracking down a copy while there are still some left for a reasonable price. The books I read so far, have all been a wonderful entry point for me to broaden my knowledge. Below the titles I managed to get my hands on.
The Rough Guide to Reggae (3rd Edition) – Written by Steve Barrow (Blood and Fire label) and Peter Dalton (Honest Jon’s music label), two authorities on the history of Reggae. One of the most appraised books in the series which I can only confirm. An excellent book, relatively easy to find and not the most expensive. Apart from the history of Reggae, the artists categorised from A-Z and the recommended albums are extensive and well chosen.
The Rough Guide to the Blues (1st Edition) – Not fully read yet, but the reviews were again mostly five out of five and so far I can vouch for it. Maybe a little less extensive than the Rough Guide to Reggae, Nigel Williamson gives a profound introduction of it’s history coupled with playing style specific recommend playlist up until the 70’s followed by an artist A-Z with some of their best work. If you are going for buying only the best of the Rough Guide series, The Rough Guide to The Blues should definitely be included.
The Rough Guide to Hip-hop (2nd Edition) – I haven’t even flipped through to the pages to be honest. So, I have to rely fully on the reviews that I have read so far. This goes for all the books that follow hereafter. Even though most of the reviews praise the work that has been done by Peter Shapiro, to give an overview of a genre (or culture) that from all the other genres is probably the most exciting and experimental field in the last 10 years or so (especially Rap), he does seem to come across as overtly opiniated to the point of not recommending artists or albums while he in some cases he should. Hopefully, Peter and me see eye to eye on most of these matters I guess. Mainly because the same critique and seeing I own already quite some books on Soul music, it didn’t make sense to purchase The Rough Guide to Soul and R&B written by the same author.
The Rough Guide to World Music Volume 1 & 2 (3rd Edition) – I haven’t read it yet, but I’m anxiously waiting to do so. This will definitely compete for the crown together with The Rough Guide to Reggae maybe even surpassing it because of the extensive work that has been done to categorize a genre that is essentially a multitude of genres within one genre. Both are highly praised and by the looks of it the series is still waiting on the release of the third and final volume. Prices vary quite significantly. I have come across copies for up till 80 euro’s and used ones for less than 10 euro’s.
The Rough Guide to Rock (3rd Edition) – Received my copy just the other day. In terms of pages it seems to be one of the most extensive in the series. New ones will cost you a pretty penny at least on Amazon (136 dollars and 51 cents to be exact), but I found a brand-new copy via a local reseller for only 30 euro’s. Looking at all the reviews it doesn’t get five out of five from everyone for lacking some artists, bands (Slayer for example) or albums in what seems to be an ever expanding genre.
The Rough Guide to Jazz (3rd Edition) – Before doing research I was sure to place a bet that this would be the most criticized book in the series. But actually almost all readers seem to be quite mild in their critique mentioning here and there some artists that are missing or should be featured more eloquently, the writing style in some chapters and the fact that it is mostly a biography of artists from A-Z. That may as well be the case, but I guess it was never the intention to write an all encompassing book about the history of Jazz and most readers seem to understand and appreciate the book.
The Rough Guide to Country (1st Edition) – This could be the dark horse amongst the books I haven’t read yet in the series as from all the genres this is the one I’m least familiar with, but somehow intrigued. Kurt Wolff seems to do an excellent job in introducing Country music to fans and newcomers alike. There is some critique from collectors or fans of the genre that need no introduction or missing the artist that they are so fond about. For me, this won’t deteriorate my enthusiasm to learn and listen to something new. The only downside so far for me is that this book hasn’t been updated since it’s release in 2000 and is still within it’s first edition.
Tips before buying;
- Check if you are buying the latest edition. In case of a big price difference between the 2nd and 3rd edition for instance, see if you can find some reviews that state if the additions made are worth the price difference. In most cases I came to understand that they are definitely worth it, especially seeing that after reading you are probably going to use it as a reference book for a number of years. The list above contains all the latest editions so that should give you a good start.
- Also, I would recommend to try your luck finding a second hand copy in good to very good condition. It will save you a lot of money and if you are going to use it as reading material the most important factor is that you can actually read it. Mine were all in lovely condition even if I opted in some cases for the cheaper option in lesser condition to even used library copies for the ones that were otherwise too expensive.
If any of these books piqued your interest good luck hunting them down. Chances are that you will finish reading sooner than I will. In that case please drop a comment with your thoughts as I’m curious what you think. For all who would like to skip the reading part keep an eye on the “now playing page” as I will start sharing some Blues albums that I kept on playing again and again soon.