NPR logo The Mix: Desperate Music From American Icons

The Mix: Desperate Music From American Icons

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Muddy Waters in 1979. Paul Natkin/WireImage hide caption

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Paul Natkin/WireImage

Muddy Waters in 1979.

Paul Natkin/WireImage

Journalist and author Tom Piazza's collection of essays, Devil Sent the Rain, features pieces about several musicians whose songs and personas conjure, as he puts it, "the bottom of the American ladder." There's the proto-country of Jimmie Rodgers, the early blues of Ma Rainey, the volatile bluegrass of Jimmy Martin, the forgotten honky-tonk of Carl Perkins — all products of a "desperate America."

Piazza also covers artists who, like himself, have drawn inspiration from this desperate America without necessarily living it themselves. His Oxford American column on Gillian Welch is a passionate defense of the Los Angeles-bred daughter of music-industry execs. "Trust the song, not the singer," he writes. Piazza's piece on Bob Dylan stresses the re-invention that has always been a part of American culture.

You can hear songs from these artists and many others covered in Devil Sent the Rain in this edition of The Mix, curated by WKSU's

Artists in the Mix

  • Alison Krauss
  • Allman Brothers
  • Bessie Smith
  • Big Bill Broonzy
  • Big Maceo Merriweather
  • Big Mama Thornton
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Blind Willie McTell
  • Bob Dylan
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Carl Perkins
  • Cassandra Wilson
  • Charley Patton
  • Furry Lewis
  • Gillian Welch
  • Grateful Dead
  • Howlin' Wolf
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers
  • Jimmie Rodgers
  • Jimmy Martin
  • Joe Liggins
  • John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson
  • Leroy Carr
  • Lucinda Williams
  • Ma Rainey
  • Memphis Minnie
  • Merle Haggard and the Strangers
  • Muddy Waters
  • Peetie Wheatstraw
  • Robert Johnson
  • Son House
  • Steve Earle
  • Tampa Red
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Willie Nelson