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Deep Inside the Blues - Photographs and Interviews

Deep Inside the Blues

Photographs and Interviews

By Margo Cooper
Foreword by William R. Ferris
Series: American Made Music Series

Hardcover : 9781496847416, 384 pages, 168 b&w photographs, November 2023

A collection of dazzling black-and-white photographs and in-depth interviews that illuminate the lives and times of three generations of blues musicians


Deep Inside the Blues collects thirty-four of Margo Cooper’s interviews with blues artists and is illustrated with over 160 of her photographs, many published here for the first time. For thirty years, Cooper has been documenting the lives of blues musicians, their families and homes, neighborhoods, festivals, and gigs. Her photographic work combines iconic late-career images of many legendary figures including Bo Diddley, Honeyboy Edwards, B. B. King, Pinetop Perkins, and Hubert Sumlin with youthful shots of Cedric Burnside, Shemekia Copeland, and Sharde Thomas, themselves now in their thirties and forties. During this time, the Burnside and Turner families and other Mississippi artists such as T-Model Ford, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, and L. C. Ulmer entered the national and international spotlight, ensuring the powerful connection between authentic Delta, Hill Country, and Piney Woods blues musicians and their audience continues.

In 1993, Cooper began photographing in the clubs around New England, then in Chicago, and before long in Mississippi and Helena, Arkansas. On her very first trips to Mississippi in 1997 and 1998, Cooper had the good fortune to photograph Sam Carr, Frank Frost, Bobby Rush, and Otha Turner, among others. “The blues come out of the field,” Ulmer told Cooper. Seeing those fields, as well as the old juke joints, country churches, and people’s homes, inspired her. She began recording interviews with the musicians, sometimes over a period of years, listening and asking questions as their narratives unfolded. Many of the key blues players of the period have already passed, making their stories and Cooper’s photographs of them all the more poignant and valuable.


"PRAISE FOR THE AUTHOR: Cooper's images remind us that the blues is as much attitude or way of life as art form. . . . She sees herself as an advocate for the music, a celebrant, but not an apologist. Clearly, her photographs are a labor of love."

- Mark Feeney, Boston Globe

"Deep Inside the Blues avoids the culture-wide tendency to romanticize and elegize its subjects as ‘the last surviving bluesmen’ or view them solely as conduits for the pain of racial oppression. Instead, Cooper’s interviews offer a nuanced celebration of the musicians she has come to know—indomitable individuals, storytellers and healers both, who have etched themselves into the world’s imagination."

- Adam Gussow, author of Whose Blues? Facing Up to Race and the Future of the Music

"Deep Inside the Blues is truly historic. It is a stunning tribute to the musicians and to Cooper for her vision and persistence in gathering their photographs and oral histories."

- William R. Ferris, author of I AM A MAN: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1960–1970

"PRAISE FOR THE AUTHOR: The urgent need to preserve a cornerstone of American culture led folklorists like John Lomax to travel the country documenting early blues recordings and writers like Amiri Baraka to publish Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Although Margo Cooper did not know it when she began more than twenty years ago, she has followed that tradition and produced a documentary project that archives the oral and visual histories of blues musicians, their families, and communities in northern Mississippi and the Delta."

- fayemi shakur, New York Times Lens blog

"Photographer and oral historian Cooper’s new book is a testament to the power of music, especially the brawn of the blues. A rich combination of black-and-white photos and interviews with blues musicians, this book allows each performer a chance to tell their story in their own voice. . . . A magnificent oral history of the healing power of blues music."

- Leah K. Huey, Library Journal (starred review)

"With Deep Inside the Blues Cooper makes ample use of the access she gained through mutual trust and friendship as a faithful chronicler of the blues and the lives of its artists."

- Jim Beaugez, Magnolia Tribune

"[A}ny serious fan of post World War II Mississippi blues will want this."

- Ted Drozdowski, Premier Guitar

"I’ve only just begun to dig into this exceptional book, and know I’ll get a lot of enjoyment it in the weeks and months to come."

- Phillip Turner, The Great Gray Bridge

"Margo Cooper has assembled an exquisite book of photography and oral histories."

- Art Tipaldi, Blues Music Online

"A compendium of original B/W photos of performers supported by their informative and succinct biographies, "Deep Inside the Blues: Photographs and Interviews" is a very special and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and college/university library American Music History collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists."

- William R. Ferris, Midwest Book Review

"This book is perhaps the best example I have ever encountered of what is possible when one follows one’s passion(s) without compromise… I cannot imagine a finer tribute to a more deserving group. Highly recommended."

- Andrew Matthews, Wall of Sound