Bars, Blues, and Booze
Stories from the Drink House
True accounts from musicians, bar owners, and regulars at the crossroads of good times and despair
Bars, Blues, and Booze collects lively bar tales from the intersection of black and white musical cultures in the South. Many of these stories do not seem dignified, decent, or filled with uplifting euphoria, but they are real narratives of people who worked hard with their hands during the week to celebrate the weekend with music and mind-altering substances. These are stories of musicians who may not be famous celebrities but are men and women deeply occupied with their craft--professional musicians stuck with a day job. The collection also includes stories from fans and bar owners, people vital to shaping a local music scene. The stories explore the "crossroads," that intoxicated intersection of spirituality, race, and music that forms a rich, southern vernacular. In personal narratives, musicians and partygoers relate tales of narrow escape (almost getting busted by the law while transporting moonshine), of desperate poverty (rat-infested kitchens and repossessed cars), of magic (hiring a root doctor to make a charm), and loss (death or incarceration). Here are stories of defiant miscegenation, of forgetting race and going out to eat together after a jam, and then not being served. Assorted boasts of improbable hijinks give the "blue collar" musician a wild, gritty glamour and emphasize the riotous freedom of their fans, who sometimes risk the strong arm of southern liquor laws in order to chase the good times.
This is so much more than a historical look at the 'juke joint'/'drink house' culture that existed in the South. It is a joyous romp through these places by musicians who actually experienced them. Bars, Blues, and Booze brings to life one of the most sought-after experiences blues fans seek out. With the diminishing number of these establishments today, we are treated to a bar seat on the front line of live music and the blues. Many of us may never be able to visit a drink house or a juke joint, but we have this book. Lovingly assembled by Emily D. Edwards, we can see and hear the events almost firsthand. There are stories here that will open your eyes and ears, and more importantly, teach us the way it was from the people who lived it.- Chef Jimi Patricola, Blues411: Where Blues Thrives
I found the book difficult to put down, as I found the behind-the-scenes stories amusing, engaging, and enlightening. The author exhibits a true love for the subject matter, and I am not aware of any other book-length publication that covers the connection between the musical community and the drink houses of the American South.- Laura Moody, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal
Emily D. Edwards' Bars, Blues, and Booze: Stories From the Drink House is an engrossing collection of stories from musicians, music lovers, and other denizens of "drink houses"—alcohol-serving music venues, both legal and illegal—and the scene that surrounds them. Taken together, these oral histories provide a fascinating glimpse into the richly complex nature of southern music culture.- Melanie Young, Living Blues
Emily Edwards provides the reader with a glimpse into the social world of 'drink houses,' the unlicensed (and hence illegal) drinking establishments that serve as alternative sites for alcohol and popular music-driven 'house parties. ' These drink houses served as nexus points for 'fellow travelers' in the late twentieth century, for individuals who were driven by their love of authentic American music, which, by virtue of it being performed mostly by African Americans, was not readily accessible in mainstream racist and race-conscious America during that period. Through a collection of in-depth interviews with drink house musicians, drawn primarily from the Piedmont region of North Carolina, from which the term 'Piedmont Blues' originated, patrons, and other key people in the drink house subculture, Edwards provides an intimate and intriguing portrait of an important part of the American popular music tapestry.- Jonathon S. Epstein, Greensboro College