The Bottom Line
Steve Cushing has hosted the Blues Before Sunrise program for almost 30 years now, first for Chicago’s Public Radio station WBEZ-FM and, most recently, in syndication across the country. Through the decades, Cushing has featured and promoted his reverent vision of the blues, playing a mix of pre-and-post-war blues music from midnight to 5:00 AM. Listeners can expect to hear a diverse mix of Delta, Chicago, Piedmont, jump blues, R&B and Southern soul. It has been Cushing’s good fortune to interview hundreds of artists, a dozen of which are included in Blues Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews.
- Cushing's choice of interview subjects covers everything from Delta blues to Southern soul
- Many interviews feature the artist just spinning out memories without interruption
- Twelve interviews just aren't enough!
- Anthology collects a dozen interviews with little-known blues artists
- 210 pages, 6”x9” trade paperback
- Forward by Jim O’Neal of Living Blues magazine
- Features 18 vintage B&W photos, many never seen before
Guide Review - Steve Cushing - Blues Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews (2010)
Steve Cushing began his landmark Blues Before Sunrise radio program in 1980 with little more than the idea to spin records by a wide range of artists, with an emphasis placed on the pre-war bluesmen and women that received little attention anywhere else. For three decades now, he has adhered to his brilliant original vision, his broadcast promoting Delta blues, Chicago blues, jump and jive, classic R&B, swing, doo-wop, gospel music...even comedy and spoken word.
Through the years, Cushing has educated both his listeners and himself, expanding his listener’s musical tastes while, in turn, his listeners would introduce Cushing to unfamiliar talents, providing an excuse for the broadcaster to buy records and familiarize himself with unknown artists. This interaction between Cushing and his audience is part of what made the program a Chicago institution, and provided an air of authenticity that others might lack.
In the course of producing Blues Before Sunrise, Cushing has had the good fortune to interview hundreds of artists on his program. With a style of interviewing that often just allows the artist to speak without interruption, the respect paid to his guests and their music resulted in some incredible oral histories, particularly with the lesser-known artists whose stories have seldom been told.
Blues Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews collects a dozen of these interviews, and the book is an unqualified “must have” for any blues fan interested in the history of the music. The book is divided in three sections, each with four interviews, the first section being “Ancient Age.” Focusing on pre-war blues, the section includes conversations with mandolin player Yank Ranchell; Chicago blues singer Jesse Thomas; the great female blues singer Alberta Hunter; and Texas blues pianist the Grey Ghost.
While these reviews are all interesting, the book’s second section, “Postwar Glory,” opens the reader’s eyes to the reality of the blues. Featuring interviews with Gary, guitarist and songwriter John Brim, and his wife Grace; former Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Jody Williams; Rev. Johnny Williams; and guitarist Little Hudson all sharing stories from “back in the day.” Section three, “Esoterica,” features Southern R&B singer Tommy Brown; legendary producer and A&R man Ralph Bass; Chicago legend Cadillac Baby; and former Windy City radio personality Richard Stamz.
With each interview, Cushing solicits the artist’s memories and history, and stories that are humorous, poignant, and entertaining. In doing so, Blues Before Sunrise documents these tales for posterity, capturing a place in history for the artists and widening our appreciation of the blues. Let’s hope that Cushing publishes a second volume sometime soon. (University of Illinois Press, published January 15, 2010)
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