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Posted on Sat, Aug 21, 2010 : 5:58 a.m.

Book of candid photographs recalls groundbreaking Ann Arbor Blues Festival

By Roger LeLievre


In 1969 and 1970, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival brought together an impressive slate of performers that seemed to feature every big name in the blues genre.

Stanley Livingston, a professional photographer from Ann Arbor, was there, and now a sampling of his work has been released in the book “Blues in Black and White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals,” published by the University of Michigan Press.

His goal with the book is “to honor these people and their music,” Livingston said.

The roster of artists who played at those two festivals reads like a who's who of the blues — Howlin’ Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor, Big Mama Thornton, T-Bone Walker, Sippie Wallace, Junior Wells, Luther Allison, Big Joe Turner, Johnny Winter, Son House, Albert King, Roosevelt Sykes, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Dixon, B.B. King and more.

Images of all of them are included in the book, often with quotes from interviews conducted with the musicians at the time.

“It was the first time for a lot of these blues artists to ever be together at one time. A lot of them knew each other from their years of playing in Mississippi and stuff, but it was also the first time for them to meet the ‘white culture,’” Stanley Livingston said. “A lot of young white people got to meet these black people for the first time and it was a fabulous thing, another significant growth in racial relationships.”

Livingston said he chose from around 9,000 images on file, and estimated it took six months to complete all the scans and Photoshop work on the book’s images. “I wanted every picture to be its own little work of art. That’s important to me, that the pictures sing,” he said.

Although the two festivals were considered an artistic hit, they lost money. There was no Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1971, and a year later the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival — which sounded its last note in 2006 — was founded.

Writing in the book’s foreword, Jim O’Neal, co-founder of Living Blues magazine, said, “Ann Arbor set the both the stage and the standard for all the blues festivals that followed … Survivors of the 1960s still ask one another, ‘Were you at Woodstock?’ Those of us who became blues converts ask, ‘ Were you at Ann Arbor?’”

Author and archivist Michael Erlewine, who provided a history of the event for the book, remembers the two festivals as helping mark the discovery of modern electric blues music and the musicians who made that music.

“It was something more than just black music for white people. It was a celebration for the musicians themselves,” Erlewine, who went on to found the Ann Arbor-based All Music Guide, wrote.

According to Livingston, Michael’s brother, Tom Erlewine, who also served as the book’s editor and designer, was a driving force behind the volume. “Tom was the one that kept bugging me, (saying) ‘You know, we should do a book with your blues photos.’ That’s how it all started.”

Livingston, who now specializes in architectural photography, credits the late Jim Tate, a local blues and country musician, for introducing him to the blues. “He brought over a lot of blues albums and we listened to them. At the end of the first day of the first blues festival, he came over and dragged me over to the blues festival and said ‘Bring your cameras.’ He was really forceful about it. And I reluctantly went with him. When I got there, Howlin’ Wolf was on stage and he mesmerized me and I was hooked. Fortunately I had brought a brick of film — 24 rolls — and I think I shot it all up. I just went back and back and I didn’t stop,” Livingston said.

The book is available at local bookstores, directly from the U-M Press, and from

Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for



Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9:52 p.m.

I was home on leave on my way to Viet Nam for the 1969 festival. I safely arrived home to spend the entire 1970 Blues and Jazz festival out in the grass. These photos of Stanley's and Mike's interviews really bring it back home. This book is a treasure of great memories. Between Mr. Floods Party and this annual event we Ann Arbor folks were mighty fortunate.

David Briegel

Sat, Aug 21, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

This was a very important time in music and Ann Arbor and these guys have done a fine job of joyfully sharing their experiences. I should have been aware of my friend Jim Tate's roll in this and wish he was here to see the results. The stories I have heard over the years are a wonderful record of awakening and discovery. I thank Stanley and Michael for their good work!


Sat, Aug 21, 2010 : 7:50 a.m.

Sounds like someone recalling "the good old days". I guess that's what happens when you get old! At least, we will have a record of what he remembers and more importantly, the photos which can provide a better historical image of the time period.