Blues Masters: The Essential History of the Blues-Volume 1 (1993)

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Released 12-Jul-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-Volume 2 Preview
DVD Credits
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1993
Running Time 49:47 (Case: 51)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By L.L. Tarter
Rhino Home Video
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Various
Case Click
RPI $29.95 Music Various

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Some people like the blues and others don't. I am in the former group, although this was not always the case. There is much more emotion, depth and raw earthiness behind a blues piece than is found in a lot of the commercial fluff produced by the pop industry. Wanting to know some history of the early years of the blues and see some rare footage, I happily grabbed the opportunity to review Blues Masters: The Essential History of the Blues - Volume 1. This disc covers the Blues scene in the States up till the second world war. It mixes discussion of the development of this genre and the events that surrounded and shaped it as well as providing nine songs, in full, for our enjoyment. These were captured on film from the prominent blues artists featured during the narrative.

After brief discussion about the origins of this music - which occurred during the civil war as blacks travelled widely across the country - the disc gets right into the music with the only known footage of the popular early 20th Century blues singer called 'Leadbelly'. The growing prominence of women in the Blues during the twenties and thirties is discussed. The powerful voice of Bessie Smith is featured here singing the famous St. Louis Blues. After having three record companies reject her, Bessie finally signed with Columbia and instantly became the most popular female blues artist ever. After this success, the other record companies got the idea and artists like Bessie and Maime Smith saw the blues become popular with non-black audiences. Some of the style changes in the blues are covered by this documentary. The rise of swing and development of regional differences between the north and south blues are mentioned, though only briefly. This volume intersperses its early clips and discussion of the blues with footage of the depression, first and second world wars, the Ku Klux Klan and prominent black boxers and athletes. It mentions the lowly status of the black population during these times and how these events and groups influenced society.

This DVD is not a comprehensive coverage of the development of the blues and there is no footage of interviews with blues musicians talking about their music. It is more a potted overview of the early years. Most of its 47 minute length is structured around the footage they have available to them. The nine showcase songs are great to see and enjoyable but the narrative's swing from one topic to another seems haphazard with no direction or theme to bring the documentary together. One moment Al Capone is being discussed, with no obvious relevance to the blues that I could make out, then the focus switches to a religious leader running soup kitchens, again with no mention made about how this affects the blues. Notwithstanding such criticisms, the DVD was not hard to sit through and when it was over I was left wanting to watch more.

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Track Listing

1. Son House-Levee Blues
2. Leadbelly-Pick A Bale O' Cotton
3. Bessie Smith-St. Louis Blues
4. Mamie Smith-Lord, Lord, Lord
5. Mamie Smith-Harlem Blues
6. Roy Milton-Hey, Lawdy Mama
7. Jimmy Rushing-Take Me Back, Baby
8. Ethel Waters-Quicksand
9. Big Bill Broonzy-Guitar Shuffle

Transfer Quality


This DVD's picture is constructed from footage captured on film a long time ago and all material is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

The picture was not sharp at all. The blacks were not well saturated and had plenty of low level noise. Film artefacts were abundant, as you would expect when much of the source material is around 80 years old.

This is not a colourful DVD. Virtually everything is in black and white. In the few spots where colour exists it is muted.

MPEG artefacts were not problem in this transfer, with the bit rate remaining high throughout the feature.

This is not an RSDL disc, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The audio is in 5.1 but it is five channels of mono. After about three and a half seconds, the novelty of hearing the narrator's voice coming from every corner of my room grew tiring. I do not know why this was done except that perhaps someone in marketing said they would sell more copies if it said 5.1 on the back cover. As this disc consists only of the narrator's voice and the clips of the early blues artists (who were recorded mono), mono would have been my preference for the audio on this disc. My second watching of the disc was done with my rear power amp off. The sound was what you would expect of such dated sources - everything sounded thin, at times distorted and low in overall quality. There are regular drop-outs in the source material during the eight clips.

Audio sync was not a problem.

The surrounds are constantly active doing identical things to the front speakers but are essentially mono.

The sub never awoke from its slumber.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


There were few extras included on this disc.

Menu Audio & Animation

All of the 1.33:1 menus were animated and scored.


A small photo gallery with eight photos of the featured artists.

Trailer-Volume 2 Preview

A three minute clip from the next volume in the series.

DVD Credits

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 1 version of this DVD appears to be essentially the same as the Region 4 version..


For outright blues fans only.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Gavin Womersley (read my bio)
Tuesday, August 06, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen rear projection TV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-985 THX Ultra certified surround pre-amp.
AmplificationParasound HCA-2003 3x300w THX certified power amp, NAD 208THX 2x300w power amp.
SpeakersVelodyne HGS-18 1250w 18 servo-driven subwoofer, Celestion A3 front speakers, A2 rear speaker (full range) and A4c center channel speaker.

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