Blues historian Gayle Dean Wardlow is one of the world’s authorities on Delta Blues. He joins Centrum’s faculty for our Acoustic Blues Festival in late July. He was asked about his entree to the art form in a 1991 interview. Here’s just a snippet.
You’re considered to be one of the foremost blues researchers and record collectors in the world. How did you get into blues research and record collecting?
I’ve been a collector all my life. I started collecting Roy Acuff records in 1952. By 1959 I had an almost complete collection of Acuff records dating back to 1936. A collector in California that I had bought some records from told me, “look, you’re living in the south. If you’ll go out and find some old jazz and blues records you can swap ’em for a whole box of Roy Acuff records.” So one day I went down to the black neighborhood behind my house and started knocking on doors, looking for records. I found two records that day, one by an artist named Chippy Hill with Louie Armstrong on trumpet. The other was a Champion label that came out in 1931. It turns out that the Champion record was the only one ever found of that record and I found it right there in my own neighborhood.
And that got you started collecting blues?
Not then because I intended to trade the blues stuff. Later, while I was going to college. I started to work for an exterminating company in Jackson, Mississippi. During my lunch hour I would knock on doors in the black neighborhoods and buy old Victrola records. I developed a pretty good selection of blues and I started listening to the records and really liked the music. That’s when I got seriously into collecting blues. It became an obsession. I’ve got approximately 3000 records in my 78 collection. It’s one of the stronger collections in the world of pre-war blues.