Guido van Rijn’s research is impeccable, even though writing a biography about a musician, never interviewed and who died about sixty years ago, poses nearly insurmountable obstacles. The details of Hogg’s life are sketchy. At best, Guido skillfully interweaves anecdotes and oral accounts with the historical facts he was able to establish to build a chronology that establishes the context of Hogg’s career. However, given the difficulties confronting him, Guido smartly devotes most of this book to the transcription and assessment of the lyrics of the 256 songs that Hogg recorded for multiple labels.
The sheer number and breadth of Hogg’s recordings not only revealed his astute awareness of the music of his contemporaries that he likely heard on the radio and on record, but also in live performance, from the country blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins to the barrelhouse piano of Alex Moore. Moreover, Hogg demonstrated his understanding and appreciation of the blues as a means to give voice to his innermost feelings and allude to his travails.
In his analysis of Hogg’s songs, Guido looks for clues to autobiographical elements in the lyrics. He explores possible connections to Hogg’s personal life experiences, and traces and compares, whenever possible, the multiple takes recorded by Hogg and their relationship to records made by other blues artists. Overall, despite the clear limitations, Guido van Rijn’s book about Smokey Hogg is a multifaceted narrative that is at once informative and illuminating.