All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music by Micheal Corcoran
There are a couple of reasons I have rated this book so low. The first is that it contains very little about blues piano so it is of limited interest, for the purposes of this site at least. Second, the entire preface is spent bragging about how great Texas is. This is tiresome and borderline offensive for anyone who isn’t a Texan. Then again the book was obviously written with Texans as the target audience. Still, it seems wise to find ways to celebrate one’s heritage while inviting others to also do so, without alienating them.
I was initially disappointed because I made this purchase after seeing that it referenced George and Hersal Thomas, only find that they are only briefly mentioned in the preface and no more. But once I got past that and the other issues I discovered this book actually does contain some interesting stories about music. The stated purpose of the book is to bring attention to little-known musicians, or at least little-known facts about better-known ones.
Again, while the appeal to blues enthusiasts is satisfied by covering artists such as ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, there are no actual blues pianists covered. There is, however, a segment on early gospel pianist Arizona Dranes who is an important historical figure because her recordings illustrate how close her music was to barrelhouse piano of the time.
Another worthwhile section is about fellow gospel musician Washington Phillips. Corcoran mentions the assumption that Phillips played a keyboard instrument called a Dulceola, a mistake even perpetuated by excellent researchers such as Paul Oliver. But Corcoran’s sense of logic prevails and he concludes that Phillips’s instrument was something else, even if he doesn’t know what it was. (It turns out that Washington Phillips played two Celestaphones joined together, and with the keyboard mechanisms removed.) The story that Corcoran tells of talking to Phillips’s relatives and neighbors and finally tracking down where he lived is quite inspirational and was the most worthwhile portion of the book for me.
In the end, there is not a lot to recommend here. Yet, used copies of the book can be found very cheap, so if you like reading interesting stories about obscure musicians then this may be for you.