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I'd Rather Be the Devil
I'd Rather Be the Devil

I'd Rather Be the Devil

Skip James and the Blues


400 Pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Formats: Trade Paper, EPUB, PDF, Mobipocket

Trade Paper, $22.99 (US $22.99) (CA $29.99)

Publication Date: April 2008

ISBN 9781556527463

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Apr 2008)


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A rare account of the dangerous and disreputable life of a legendary blues musician

Providing a clear look into the life of one of the greatest Mississippi bluesmen, this is the first biography of the late Skip James, perhaps the most creative and idiosyncratic of all blues musicians. His 1931 performances of "Devil Got My Woman," "I'm So Glad," and "22-20 Blues" are masterpieces that transcend the genre. Drawing largely on hundreds of hours of conversations with James himself, it paints a dark and unforgettable portrait of a man untroubled by his own murderous inclinations, a man who achieved one moment of transcendent greatness in a life haunted by failure. In doing so, it offers new insights into the nature of the blues, the world in which it thrived, and its fate when that world vanished.


"[Calt] writes with a knowledge and intelligence that make even his most extreme statements interesting . . . His greatest virtue is his insistence on painting James as a real, albeit infuriating, person ."  —Boston Globe

"The appearance of a book on Skip James and his worlds as thorough, clearheaded, and insightful as Calt’s should be considered a gift of fate. To say I’d Rather Be the Devil is the best book on the subject of ‘country blues’ for the layperson would be an understatement on the order of  'Air is good for your body.'"  —Village Voice

"This is the real thing. I drink up every word. This and Calt’s life of Charlie Patton are the best books ever written on the subject of old-time blues."  —R. Crumb, author, R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country

"Intimate, learned, trenchant, chilling, and true . . . This work surpasses its task with comprehensive research and insight suggestive of far, uncharted travels."  —Alan Greenberg, author, Love in Vain

"An extraordinary work devoted to blues, and more specifically, to one of the true enigmas of country blues."  —Lawrence Cohn, editor, Nothing But the Blues

"Penetrating and idiosyncratic . . .  A remarkable book."  —Minneapolis City Pages

"Entertaining and on the mark . . . Calt’s narrative is always interesting and often spellbinding . . . Fascinating reading."  —Acoustic Guitar

"A fascinating and disturbing book, containing a lot of truth, a lot of interesting historical research, and a lot of food for thought."  —Living Blues

Author Biography

Stephen Calt is the author of King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton and the coauthor of R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country. He lives in Fresh Meadows, New York.