A Life in Blues
A biography of the renowned manager of Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Buddy Guy, who worked with a host of other iconic blues artists
Growing up in an affluent Jewish family in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Dick Waterman (b. 1935) was a shy, stuttering boy living a world away from the Mississippi Delta. Though he never heard blues music at home, he became one of the most influential figures in blues of the twentieth century.
A close proximity to Greenwich Village in the 1960s fueled Waterman's growing interest in folk music and led to an unlikely trip that resulted in the rediscovery of Delta blues artist Son House in 1964. Waterman began efforts to revive House’s music career and soon became his manager. He subsequently founded Avalon Productions, the first management agency focused on representing black blues musicians. In addition to booking and managing, he worked tirelessly to protect his clients from exploitation, demanded competitive compensation, and fought for royalties due them.
During his career, Waterman befriended and worked with numerous musicians, including such luminaries as B. B. King, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, and Eric Clapton. During the early years of his career, he documented the work of scores of musicians through his photography and gained fame as a blues photographer. This authorized biography is the crescendo of years of original research as well as extensive interviews conducted with Waterman and those who knew and worked with him.
Turner has done us a great service in shining a light both on Dick Waterman’s life and, in turn, on the reawakening of the blues from the 1960s on. It’s one of the most enjoyable music books I’ve read and deserves to be in the hands of every blues fan, indeed, of every music fan.- Down at the Crossroads
Dick has always been guided by his sense of decency, honor, puzzled quizzicality, and an unequivocal commitment to the pursuit of justice. Anyone who’s ever heard Dick tell his wonderful stories knows how important not just the people but the worlds that they inhabit are to him. As a photographer, as a writer, as a manager and friend, he continues to focus not just on the foreground but on the view beyond the horizon.- Peter Guralnick
Dick Waterman is a true hero of American roots music. He played an absolutely essential role in introducing genuine Delta and Chicago blues to a world audience, as the manager, booking agent and friend of blues giants. In the course of his colorful career, he established close personal relationships with legendary figures like Son House, Skip James, Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells. This book is packed with his true-life tales of these iconic musical figures and his deep (and sometimes funny) insights into their offstage personalities. Much of the book is told in Dick’s own words, and his stories bring these vaunted bluesmen and women to life. This book is essential reading for any blues fan or any aspiring musician manager or booking agent.- Bruce Iglauer, president and founder of Alligator Records and cofounder of Living Blues magazine
Dick Waterman was a central figure in the folk and blues scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Without his tireless efforts on behalf of many traditional musicians, the rest of us would never have seen or heard them, and they wouldn’t have enjoyed that critical phase of their artistic careers. Dick’s photographs are a visual record of those musicians and his encounters with them. Now we have Tammy Turner’s splendid book, which tells the story of what Dick accomplished and how he did it and includes his own wonderful stories about those artists and those times. This is a major contribution.- Bruce Jackson, James Agee Professor of American Culture, University at Buffalo
Dick Waterman is a national treasure. Finally, we have the definitive book tracing his charmed life and times, his dreams and good deeds—and the magical story of how he transformed the lives of a legion of blues artists, helping enrich and expand American music.- David Friend, editor of creative development, Vanity Fair