Paul Hereford Oliver MBE (25 May 1927 – 15 August 2017) was a British architectural historian and writer on the blues and other forms of African-American music. He "was equally distinguished in both fields, although it is likely that aficionados of one of his specialties were not aware of his expertise in the other." He wrote some of the first scholarly studies of blues music, and his commentary and research have been influential.

Oliver was a leading authority on the blues and gospel music, described in the New York Times as "a scrupulous researcher with a fluent writing style, [who] opened the eyes of readers in Britain and the United States to a musical form that had been overlooked and often belittled." He published his first article in Jazz Journal in 1951. His first book on the blues, a biography of Bessie Smith, was published in 1959, followed by Blues Fell this Morning: The Meaning of the Blues in 1960. The latter book was " one of the first efforts to examine closely the music’s language and subject matter." (Read more at Wikipedia

Links to Peel

Before the Blues - Paul Oliver - BBC - Radio - 1987

Before the Blues - Paul Oliver - BBC - Radio - 1987

Paul Oliver wrote for jazz magazines in the 1950s, so it's quite possible that Peel, who admitted that he bought such magazines at that time but knew little about jazz, might have read some of Oliver's early writings on the blues. But Peel and Oliver came into contact during the British blues boom of the late 1960s, when Paul Oliver was regarded as the leading authority on the music. He was a guest on Peel's Night Ride (02 July 1969), appeared alongside the DJ at blues festivals [1] and broadcast on the BBC, often on Radio 3. He published his classic The Story Of The Blues in 1969 and edited a series of "Blues Paperbacks", including a volume on Charley Patton by Peel favourite and blues scholar John Fahey.

Some of these books were accompanied by reissue compilation LPs, and Peel played tracks from them on his shows. One, Savannah Syncopators, was an early example of what later became known as world music, investigating links between West African music and the blues and featuring recordings made by the author during his field research in West Africa and Mississippi. Another, Screening The Blues, was recommended by Peel on the Night Ride of 24 July 1968. But the best-known of Oliver's compilations was the double LP The Story Of The Blues, which was issued at the height of the blues boom and sold well. (It may even have inspired Wah!'s hit single of the same name, which wasn't a blues at all, but made the 1982 Festive Fifty).

But an unintended side-effect of Paul Oliver's work was to create a kind of blues purism, whose followers dismissed other kinds of black music like soul and reggae as shallow and commercial. Although Peel was a lifelong blues fan, he never shared this point of view. Similarly, although Peel enthused over the white British blues and blues-rock acts who did sessions for his shows, Oliver did not consider the musicians who emerged from the mid-1960s blues and R&B boom to be authentic blues artists. Paul Oliver continued to write and broadcast on the blues (in addition to his main career as an architectural historian) but Peel doesn't seem to have had any contact with him after the early 1970s. Nevertheless, in a 2004 interview (see below) Oliver looked back over his long career and said that, for him, Lightnin' Hopkins was one of the greatest of all blues singers - an opinion which Peel shared.


  1. Most notably, at the "First National Blues Convention" at Conway Hall, London in September 1968: see Gigography page for more details.

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