I Feel So Good
The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy
A major figure in American blues and folk music, Big Bill Broonzy (1903–1958) left his Arkansas Delta home after World War I, headed north, and became the leading Chicago bluesman of the 1930s. His success came as he fused traditional rural blues with the electrified sound that was beginning to emerge in Chicago. This, however, was just one step in his remarkable journey: Big Bill was constantly reinventing himself, both in reality and in his retellings of it. Bob Riesman’s groundbreaking biography tells the compelling life story of a lost figure from the annals of music history.
I Feel So Good traces Big Bill’s career from his rise as a nationally prominent blues star, including his historic 1938 appearance at Carnegie Hall, to his influential role in the post-World War II folk revival, when he sang about racial injustice alongside Pete Seeger and Studs Terkel. Riesman’s account brings the reader into the jazz clubs and concert halls of Europe, as Big Bill's overseas tours in the 1950s ignited the British blues-rock explosion of the 1960s. Interviews with Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, and Ray Davies reveal Broonzy’s profound impact on the British rockers who would follow him and change the course of popular music.
Along the way, Riesman details Big Bill’s complicated and poignant personal saga: he was married three times and became a father at the very end of his life to a child half a world away. He also brings to light Big Bill’s final years, when he first lost his voice, then his life, to cancer, just as his international reputation was reaching its peak. Featuring many rarely seen photos, I Feel So Good will be the definitive account of Big Bill Broonzy’s life and music.
“Riesman does an excellent job of sifting through conflicting accounts of Broonzy’s marital and workforce history, often presenting multiple sides of the tales. He used a bewildering array of sources to help draw his conclusions, going through numerous archives, museums and music societies, as well as talking to those who were there for another point of view. . . . This book perceptively tells it all.”
“Compelling. . . . An important contribution to the literature of the blues as well as Chicago musical history.”
“This book sets Bill’s extraordinary life and career in meticulously researched perspective. . . . If rock ‘n’ roll and all its recent spawn can in any sense be regarded as art, or carries any social meaning, or transmits reflective or historical relevance to those who love it, this book will help to explain why.”
“Bob Riesman has dug hard and deep into a world and a community to which few outsiders have been granted entrance. . . . This is the kind of book so engaging it simply leaves you wanting more.”
“I knew Big Bill Broonzy in the 1940s and ’50s, near the end of his life. He was a great man, and one of the great musical artists of the twentieth century, as well as an intellectual, a term usually given to college people. I think he was genuinely reaching out all his life to different people. If it’s possible to put his story into words, Bob Riesman has done it in this book.”
“With the fascinating and well-researched story Riesman tells in I Feel So Good, one wonders why the world does not know more about this bluesman.”
Appreciation by Pete Townshend
2 My Name Is William Lee Conley Broonzy
3 When Will I Get to Be Called a Man?
4 Let’s Go Away from Here!
5 “I’m Gonna Play This Guitar Tonight from A to Z!”
6 Serve It to Me Right
7 State Street Boys
8 Just a Dream
9 Big Bill and Josh Are Here to Play the Blues for You
10 Preachin’ the Blues
11 Blues at Midnight
12 “That’s the Nicest Guy I Ever Met in My Life”
13 Stranger in a Strange Land
14 Nourish Yourself on Big Bill
15 “Be Proud of What You Are!”
16 Too Many Isms
17 Low Light and Blue Smoke
18 “A Requiem for the Blues”
Bill on Film
A gallery of photographs follows