History of British Blues


In Memoriam


Paul Hereford Oliver MBE

World Authority on the Blues

25 May 1927 - 15 August 2017


Paul Oliver (right) with long time friend and blues historian Max Haymes
Photograph © Copyright 2012 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Paul Oliver was one of the world's leading authorities and writer on the history of the blues. From an early age he collected blues records and books on the blues, publishing his first article in 1951. Since that time he had published thirteen books on the history of the blues and blues music including The Story of the Blues, Blues Fell This Morning, Conversation with the Blues, and Blues Off The Record.  His work also includes interviews, field work and research in recording and printed sources tracing the origin and development of African American music and culture from the time of slavery through to the Twentieth Century. This work, known as "The Paul Oliver Collection of African American Music and Related Traditions" is one of Paul’s legacies, held on a custodial basis at The University of Gloucestershire, England, by agreement with the European Blues Association and Paul Oliver. It represents an enormously valuable resource in teaching and research and is of international significance.

(Extract from an Earlyblues.com interview with Paul Oliver - click here for full interview)


A tribute from blues historian Max Haymes:


My literary mentor of the Blues, Paul Oliver, I learnt last night (15th.) has died at the age of 90.

Paul, in the latter years had become my friend and when I visited him at his home in Oxon, on one occasion, we took a short walk in the beautiful Oxfordshire rural surroundings. And he would confide in me how much he missed his late beloved wife, Valerie.  This was a subject I would never have dreamed of broaching him with.  But as one of the older of his visitors  (although I am some 14 years his junior) he probably felt we were nearly contemporaries.  They were magic times, Paul, (even the white-knuckle trips when you still had your car!) which I will always treasure.

I feel I cannot but repeat part of my notes to the 4-CD set ‘Meaning In The Blues’ which I presented to him at one of his talks, some 6 years ago.  This came out on JSP Records based in London, and the company allowed an 80-page booklet to accompany the recordings (thank you John), celebrating the 50th. anniversary of Paul’s ‘Blues Fell This Morning’.  My aim was to give him this tribute while he was still in the land of the living

“In only a slightly revised paragraph in the Introduction to the 1990 edition Paul Oliver wrote, ‘The blues did not reflect the whole of black life in the United States, and a social study of black problems does not explain the blues.  But in order to understand the blues singers it is necessary to explore the background of their themes, and to enter their world through them, distant and unapproachable though it may be.’  The last 34 words sealed my ongoing existence on this planet.” (Max Haymes. p.3. Notes to ‘Meaning In The Blues’. 4-CD SET [JSP 77141. London] 2011).

The early blues singers (often only semi-literate at best) would sing a floating verse which runs:

They accuse me of forgin’ an’ I cannot even write my name 

But Paul Oliver could write their name, in his unprecedented book of the genre, ‘Blues Fell This Morning’ and many subsequent ones on both early blues and gospel which are all well-worth reading, and indeed essential to the serious blues collector.

If there is a great juke joint in the sky, Paul, you are once more with your Valerie.

I learnt from Paul’s books  that the Blues is a way of life and will be here until the last of our species dies out.  The BLUES ROLL ON!  But to précis his own words, although events and social conditions are changing, on the African American, the Blues still fell this morning.

Max Haymes. 16th. August 2017.  Lancaster, UK.


Extract of an obituary from the New York Times by William Grimes, August 17, 2017 :

Paul Oliver, Pre-eminent Authority on the Blues, Dies at 90

Paul Oliver, a Briton who wrote some of the earliest and most authoritative histories of one of America’s great indigenous musical forms, the blues, died on Tuesday in Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire, England. He was 90.

His death was confirmed by Michael Roach, the co-executor of his estate.

Mr. Oliver first heard black American music as a teenager in England during World War II. While he was gathering crops for the war effort at a harvest camp in Suffolk, not far from an American military base, a friend asked him if he wanted to hear something unusual.

“He took me down to a kind of hedge between the two farms, and there was this extraordinary crying and yelling,” Mr. Oliver told the web publication earlyblues.com in 2009. “I couldn’t call it singing, but it was quite spine-chilling. He said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I said, ‘No, I’ve no idea,’ and he said, ‘You’re listening to blues.’

“He wasn’t quite right, really,” Mr. Oliver added, “because we were actually listening to field hollers, but nevertheless I found it quite extraordinary.”