St. Louis artist, author and one-time RFT cover illustrator Kevin Belford is a man on a mission: to assert St. Louis' rightful place in the history of blues music. Belford's new book, Devil at the Confluence: The Pre-War Blues Music of St. Louis, is out next month from Virginia Publishing. In it, Belford makes the case for St. Louis as a key crossroads for blues activity during the 1920s and 1930s, by recounting the stories and songs of musicians such as Peetie Wheatstraw, Henry Townsend, St. Louis Bessie and others.
Illustrated with Belford's original paintings as well as vintage photos and ads, Devil at the Confluence is intended as a serious work of music history - albeit in a slick coffee-table package - that the author hopes will prompt fans and historians to reconsider St. Louis' musical legacy.
Belford will show about twenty paintings from the book at a signing and reception to be held from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. this Friday night (September 11) at Mad Art Gallery. The free event also will include a video compilation of historic film footage of St. Louis blues musicians; a live performance from singer/guitarist Tom Hall; and a spin of the book's companion CD. The CD was assembled by Belford from the catalog of Delmark Records with the help of the label's founder, former St. Louisan Bob Koester, who got his start here in the late 1950s recording the city's surviving pre-WWII jazz and blues musicians.
Koester's archives also provided what Belford called "a gold mine" of historical data and anecdotes for Devil at the Confluence. "Most of the photos have never been seen before, and 98% of the information has never been presented before in this way," says Belford, who found that dozens of St. Louis blues musicians from the period had relatively successful careers as performers and recording artists, despite the economic woes of the Great Depression. "They weren't recording just anybody then, during the Depression," Belford notes. "To be able to record again and again, as many of these musicians did, the records had to sell."
Belford will be doing some selling of his own this fall, with additional signing events planned at the Old Webster Jazz and Blues Festival, Taste of St. Louis, BB's Jazz Blues and Soups, Left Bank Books, and the Blues City Deli. Devil at the Confluence will be available at bookstores and through Amazon.com beginning October 1.