Posts Tagged ‘piedmont’
Blind Willie McTell (May 5, 1898 – August 19, 1959)
Born William Samuel McTier (or McTear) in Thomson, Georgia, blind in one eye, McTell had lost his remaining vision by late childhood, but became an adept reader of Braille. He showed proficiency in music from an early age and learned to play the six-string guitar as soon as he could. His father left the family when McTell was still young, and when his mother died in the 1920s, he left his hometown and became a wandering busker. He began his recording career in 1927 for Victor Records in Atlanta.
In the years before World War II, he traveled and performed widely, recording for a number of labels under a different name for each one, including Blind Willie McTell (Victor and Decca), Blind Sammie (Columbia), Georgia Bill (Okeh), Hot Shot Willie (Victor), Blind Willie (Vocalion), Red Hot Willie Glaze (Bluebird), Barrelhouse Sammie (Atlantic) and Pig & Whistle Red (Regal). Bridging the gap between the raw blues of the early part of the 20th Century and the more refined East Coast “Piedmont” sound, he took on the less common and more unwieldy 12-string guitar because of its volume. The style is well documented on John Lomax’s 1940 recordings of McTell for the Library of Congress, for which McTell earned ten dollars.
McTell is unusual, if not unique, among country bluesmen in his ability to play the guitar in both the ragtime style similar to Blind Blake, and bottleneck slide blues style. His playing in both idioms is masterful, fluid and inventive; based on multiple recordings of the same song (for example, “Broke Down Engine”), he never played a song the same way twice. His style could almost be called “stream of consciousness,” as he would vary the bar pattern and sometimes even the rhythm and chord progression from verse to verse. McTell was also an excellent accompanist, and recorded many songs with his longtime musical companion, Curley Weaver; their recordings are some of the most outstanding examples of country blues guitar duets. See, for example, “It’s a Good Little Thing,” or “You Were Born to Die.”
In 1934, he married Ruthy Kate Williams (now better known as Kate McTell). She accompanied him on stage and on several recordings, before becoming a nurse in 1939. Most of their marriage from 1942 until his death was spent apart, with her living in Fort Gordon near Augusta, and him working around Atlanta.
Post-war, he recorded for Atlantic Records and Regal Records in 1949, but these recordings met with less commercial success than his previous works. He continued to perform around Atlanta, but his career was cut short by ill health, predominantly diabetes and alcoholism.
In 1956, an Atlanta record store manager, Edward Rhodes, discovered McTell playing in the street for quarters and enticed him into his store with a bottle of corn liquor, where he captured a few final performances on a tape recorder. These were released posthumously on Prestige/Bluesville Records as Blind Willie McTell’s Last Session.
McTell died in Milledgeville, Georgia, of a stroke in 1959. He is buried in Thomson, Ga. and every year the Blind Willie McTell blues festival is helpd there. In addition, Atlanta’s most prominant blues club, “Blind Willies” is named after him.
He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1981.
McTell is best known to many folks today for songs like “Statesboro Blues” (Allman Brothers & Taj Mahal – who by the way gave himself a songwriting credit) and “Broke Down Engine Blues” (Johnny Winter). Statesboro is where McTell learned to play. Jack White of The White Stripes considers McTell an influence (their 2000 album De Stijl was dedicated to him and featured a cover of his song “Your Southern Can Is Mine”), as did Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. Bob Dylan has paid tribute to McTell on at least four occasions: Firstly in his 1965 song “Highway 61 Revisited” in the second verse, which begins, “Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose,” referring to one of Blind Willie McTell’s many recording names; later in “Blind Willie McTell” (recorded in 1983 but released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 in 1991); then with covers of McTell’s “Broke Down Engine” and “Delia” on his 1993 album World Gone Wrong. In his song “Po’Boy”, off the 2001 album Love & Theft, Dylan again paid homage to McTell by appropriating the line “had to go to Florida dodging them Georgia laws” directly from the latter’s “Kill It Kid”.
Like other seaboard Piedmont players, McTell’s music is lighter sounding than the Delta Blues and very danceable. Very ragtimey sounding with a touch of Appalachian ballads and string music thrown in. What distinguished McTell from crowd was his fast and clean style of playing.
McTell played the vaudeville and Medicine Show circuit, often with his wife Kate. McTell made his first recordings in 1927 and eventually recorded over 120 songs in 14 sessions. Beginning in 1931, McTell had Curley Weaver as his side man. Ya always knew when Curley was going to solo when you heard McTell shout “Kick it Six.” Even after Weaver struck out on his own, McTell would still yell that line and just leave the space where Weaver’s solo would have been.
McTell was one of the few bluesmen to continue playing and recording after World War II. His last session was in 1956.
James James “Curley” Weaver
1906 – 1962
Curley was born in
Charlie Hicks (aka ‘Laughing’ Charlie Lincoln) (1900-1963)
Charlie Lincoln was born Charlie Hicks in Walnut Grove, GA, in 1900. When he was young, his parents moved the family to Newton County. He and younger brother Robert (who later became known as BBQ Bob Hicks) first showed an interest in music. Their family wasn’t too musical, so they were soon taking guitar lessons from a woman named Savannah “Dip” Weaver. They instantly became friends with her young son James, better known as Curley, and often practiced together. After a while, these three were often seen playing at local frolics and fish fries with a young harmonica wizard named Eddie Mapp, who had moved to the area about 1922. Charlie moved to Atlanta in 1923, the first of his circle of Newton County friends to do so. He married, settled down, and got steady work, first in a foundary, then a bakery, and finally at a paint factory. He only played music on the side, and one wonders if his wife had anything to do with that. Unlike his easy-going younger brother, Charlie Hicks did not make friends easily; he kept to himself, got moody at times, and was not like the laguhing character on some of his recordings. When he did play around Atlanta, he often worked with Robert, Curley, and Eddie (or some combination thereof) and rarely played with other musicians.
After his younger brother’s first hit, Charlie was brought into the studios with him to record for Columbia in 1927. He recorded with his brother as part of The Georgia Cotton Pickers and as a duet in addition to making his own records. Columbia released his records under the names “Charlie (or Charley) Lincoln” and “Laughing Charley”. No one could say why “Lincoln” was used, though it was the maiden name of Eddie Mapp’s mother. He recorded steadily over the next three years, though only three of his own records were released.
His brother’s death from pneumonia in 1931 hit him hard, coming two years after his mother’s and one year after his sister-in-law’s. His sister recalled that “he was just a different Charlie altogether”, and his life fell apart. His marriage broke up (his wife later dying of pneumonia as well), and after his father’s death in 1935, he became an alcoholic. By 1955 he had already attacked two or three persons with a knife. Then on Christmas Day, his trouble deepened. He was in a rough section of town and, according to him, tried to stop a man from beating his common-law wife. When the man threw a bottle, Charlie shot him. Eyewitnesses said that Charie shot the man for no apparent reason. He was found guilty and given twenty years. In prison, he continued to play his twelve-string, though he’d only play religious songs. Big Joe Williams recalled meeting a twelve-string player at the prison, but didn’t realize that he was “Charlie Lincoln”. Hicks’ parole was was turned down after seven years; soon after that, he died of a brain hemorrhage.
Eugene Moss ,”Buddy,” “Gene”
Jan 26, 1914, in Jewell, Georgia, October 19, 1984, in Atlanta, Georgia
played Harmonica, Guitar (and vocals)
Buddy Moss, born Eugene Moss, was born in 1914 in Jewell, Georgia. He was one of twelve children from a sharecropping family in Warren county. When he was four years old his family moved to Augusta, Georgia, where he taught himself how to play the harmonica in order to entertain people at parties. He spent the next ten years in Augusta until he picked up and moved to Atlanta where he met up with the likes of Barbecue Bob and Curley Weaver. They were impressed with Moss’s aptitude on the harmonica at such a young age, and Moss accompanied them with the Georgia Cotton Pickers in a recording session at the Campbell Hotel in Atlanta in December 1930. This was Moss’s first recording experience ever. Moss stayed busy for the next three years teaching himself how to play the guitar and in January 1933, Moss put out his own record through the American Recording Company in New York City.
Paul Oliver said, “His first titles revealed him as a competent guitarist with a swinging style that made effective use of bass string rhythms and of raising a note by ‘hammering on.’” This first recording session consisted of eleven tunes, and by mid-September 1933 he was recording another twelve songs. This time, however, Curley Weaver and Blind Willie McTell were accompanying him. The summer of 1934 saw Moss outselling everyone in the industry and continued to do that when he teamed up with Josh White in 1935. Moss was arrested that year however for either murdering his wife or fighting to the death with one of his rivals, depending on which source you read. He was released from the Georgia prison system six years later due to good behavior and a good word from James Baxter Long, Blind Boy Fuller’s “manager.” This may have been due to the fact that Blind Boy Fuller was dying and Long needed another star.
Moss moved to Elon College, west of Burlington, North Carolina, where he worked and lived in Long’s home, working in the fields during the weekdays and in Long’s store on the weekends. When World War II commenced and the government banned the use of shellac used in 78 rpm discs, the industry collapsed. This created a huge decline in recorded blues during this period. Moss worked odd jobs through the rest of his life such as elevator conductor, truck driver, and tobacco farmer. In 1964, however, Moss visited Josh White at one of his concerts at Emory College (Emory University, or Oxford College of Emory University?). Moss was recognized by the academics there and asked to play in festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival in 1966 and the Atlanta Blues and Grass Roots Festival in 1976. Moss had had a hard life and did not wish to continue touring. Eugene Moss died October 19, 1984, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Blind Boy Fuller (born Fulton Allen) (July 10, 1907 – February 13, 1941) was an American blues guitarist and vocalist. He was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists with rural Black Americans. He born in Wadesboro, North Carolina
He worked as a labourer, but began to lose his eyesight in his mid-teens. According to researcher Bruce Bastin:
“While he was living in Rockingham he began to have trouble with his eyes. He went to see a doctor in Charlotte who allegedly told him that he had ulcers behind his eyes, the original damage having been caused by some form of snow-blindness”.
However, there is an alternative story that he was blinded by an ex-girlfriend who threw chemicals in his face.
By 1928 he was completely blind, and turned to whatever employment he could find as a singer and entertainer, often playing in the streets. By studying the records of country blues players like Blind Blake and the “live” playing of Rev. Gary Davis, he became a formidable guitarist, and played on street corners and at house parties in Winston-Salem, Danville, and then Durham, North Carolina. In Durham, playing around the tobacco warehouses, he developed a local following which included guitarists Floyd Council and Richard Trice, as well as harmonica player Saunders Terrell, better known as Sonny Terry (eventually from the duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee) and washboard player/guitarist George Washington.
In 1935, Burlington record store manager and talent scout James Baxter Long discovered him and secured him a recording session with the American Recording Company (ARC). Allen, Davis and Washington recorded several tracks in New York City, including the traditional “Rag, Mama, Rag”. To promote the material, Long decided to rename Allen as “Blind Boy Fuller”, and also named Washington “Bull City Red”.
Over the next five years Fuller made over 120 sides, and his recordings appeared on several labels. His style of singing was rough and direct, and his lyrics explicit and uninhibited as he drew from every aspect of his experience as an underprivileged, blind Black person on the streets — pawnshops, jailhouses, sickness, death — with an honesty that lacked sentimentality. Although he was not sophisticated, his artistry as a folk singer lay in the honesty and integrity of his self-expression.
A decade younger than Blind Blake, he was not as accomplished on the guitar, but was a much more expressive singer. His music sounded older and less urban, more directly linked to the country traditions.
In April 1936, Fuller recorded ten solo performances, and also recorded with guitarist Floyd Council. The following year, having auditioning for J. Mayo Williams, he recorded for the Decca label, but then reverted to ARC. Later in 1937, he made his first recordings with Sonny Terry. In 1938 Fuller, who was described as having a fiery temper, was imprisoned for shooting a pistol at his wife, wounding her in the leg, causing him to miss out on John Hammond’s “Spirituals to Swing” concert in NYC that year (which I believe is the same one that Robert Johnsons was scheduled to appear at before he died). While Fuller was eventually released, it was Sonny Terry who went in his stead, the beginning of a long “folk music” career. Fuller’s last two recording sessions took place in
Fuller underwent a suprapubic cystostomy in July 1940 (probably an outcome of excessive drinking) but continued to require medical treatment. He died at his home in
He was so popular when he died that his protégé Brownie McGhee recorded “The Death of Blind Boy Fuller” for the Okeh label, and then reluctantly began a short lived career as Blind Boy Fuller No. 2 so that Columbia Records could cash in on his popularity.
Blind Boy Fuller’s final resting place is
Fuller’s repertoire included a number of popular double entendre “hokum” songs such as “I Want Some Of Your Pie”, “Truckin’ My Blues Away” (the origin of the phrase “keep on truckin’”), and “Get Your Yas Yas Out” (adapted as “Get Your Ya-Yas Out” for a later Rolling Stones album title), together with the autobiographical “Big House Bound” dedicated to his time spent in jail. Though much of his material was culled from traditional folk and blues numbers, he possessed a formidable finger-picking guitar style. He played a steel National resonator guitar. He was criticised by some as a derivative musician, but his ability to fuse together elements of other traditional and contemporary songs and reformulate them into his own performances, attracted a broad audience.
He was an expressive vocalist and a masterful guitar player, best remembered for his uptempo ragtime hits including “Step It Up and Go.” At the same time he was capable of deeper material, and his versions of “Lost Lover Blues”, “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy” and “Mamie” are as deep as most Delta blues. Because of his popularity, he may have been overexposed on records, yet most of his songs remained close to tradition and much of his repertoire and style is kept alive by other Piedmont artists to this day.
“Blind” Blake (born Arthur Blake, circa 1893, Jacksonville, Florida; died: circa 1933) was an influential blues singer and guitarist. He is often called “The King Of Ragtime Guitar”. According to many sources, his real name was Arthur Phelps, although concrete evidence for this claim is lacking. Recent research has discovered that many of Blind Blake’s recordings were copyrighted under the name ‘Arthur Blake’. He even states this in “Papa Charlie and Blind Blake talk about it”
His birthplace is not known for sure, and some believe that he might have been born in the coastal islands of Georgia, as he sometimes sung with a “geechee” accent (“Southern Rag”). (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geechee) . He also may have been born as early as 1880, as his birthdate is not known for sure either. He was a major influence on Merle Travis and many folk fingerpickers. He seems to have passed most of his youth in and around Atlanta, settling in Chicago after traveling there to make his first record in 1926. Before he went to Chicago, he spent plenty of time around the South, including in the Delta as there are stories of him at work and hobo camps in the delta area. He worked as a street musician in towns throughout Georgia and other parts of the South. He hoboed extensively and worked as a wandering musician throughout Florida, Georgia, and Ohio performing at picnics, parties, on streets, and at suppers and fish fries in the early 1920s.
Blind Blake recorded about 80 tracks for Paramount Records between 1926 and 1932. He was one of the most accomplished guitarists of his genre with a surprisingly diverse range of material. He is best known for his distinct guitar sound that was comparable in sound and style to a ragtime piano.
Blind Blake made his first records for Paramount during the summer of 1926, playing solo guitar behind Leola B. Wilson’s lazy vaudeville blues. “Mayo Williams, the Paramount scout, says that Blind Blake was sent up from Jacksonville by a dealer,” reports blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow. “That’s how he first got on record, and his records sold very, very well.” Blake showed nerves of steel his first time before the recording horn at Chicago’s Marsh Studios, playing outstanding solos on Leola’s “Dying Blues” and “Ashley St. Blues.”
A month later Paramount cast him as a solo artist. “Early Morning Blues” was a grim “leaving blues” reminiscent of Lonnie Johnson, while the 78′s flip side, the brilliant “West Coast Blues,” was a ragged dance tune injected with spoken asides such as “Whoop that thing” and “I’m gonna satisfy you if I can.” Both are considered excellent examples of his ragtime-based guitar style and are prototypes for the burgeoning Piedmont blues. At his October 1926 solo session, Blake balanced down-and-out blues songs with the good-time hokum of “Too Tight” and “Come On Boys Let’s Do That Messin’ Around,” which has an early example of a scat solo. Paramount summoned Blake and pianist Jimmy Blythe to Leola Wilson’s November session, which produced a pair of fine 78s. Less than six months after his entry into the record biz, Blake was playing behind the great Ma Rainey on “Morning Hour Blues,” “Little Low Mama Blues,” and “Grievin’ Hearted Blues.”
Blake’s releases no doubt astonished and influenced other blues guitarists, such as William Moore, who patterned his Paramount 78 of “Old Country Rock” on “West Coast Blues.”
Blake was seen as a true legend in the recording business. He was so popular, Paramount released at least one, and sometimes numerous, new records under his name every month! When his record sales began to fall in 1929, he contacted a good friend of his, George Williams, who managed the vaudeville show Happy-Go-Lucky. Blake played with the show until late 1930 or 1931. Blake disappeared from the Chicago music scene in 1932. He traveled to Grafton, WI, in 1932 to record his last songs with Paramount before they went bankrupt. Between the summers of 1926 and 1932, he recorded roughly 80 titles for the Paramount label.
Early the next year Paramount featured kazoo–probably played by Blake himself–on “Buck-Town Blues” and brought in a bones percussionist for “Dry Bone Shuffle” and “That Will Never Happen No More.” Blind Blake cut another seven songs during October ’27. The smoothly syncopated “Hey Hey Daddy Blues,” the hip horn imitations of “Sea Board Stomp,” and the tour de force “Southern Rag” suggest that he woodshedded on guitar during his half-year recording hiatus.
“I’m goin’ to give you some music they call the Geechie music now,” Blake announced at the beginning of “Southern Rag,” which is laced with images of planting rice, sugar cane, cotton, and peas. Some authors suggest that Blake slips into the Geechie and Gullah accents of Georgia’s South Sea Islands during the track, but Wardlow disagrees: “I don’t think he intentionally goes into the Geechie accent, but he was down from around that part of the country–South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.”
In November, Gus Cannon joined in on banjo for the minstrel tune “He’s In The Jailhouse Now.” During the 1950s Sam Charters asked Cannon for his memories of Blake. According to the book Sweet As The Showers Of Rain, Cannon responded: “We drank so much whiskey! I’m telling you we drank more whiskey than a shop! And that boy would take me out with him at night and get me so turned around I’d be lost if I left his side. He could see more with his blind eyes than I with my two good ones.” Mayo Williams also reported that Blake liked to get drunk and fight.
In the spring of 1928 Blind Blake cut his most ambitious records. Jimmy Bertrand manned xylophone for “Doggin’ Me Mama Blues” and warbled slide whistle on “C.C. Pill Blues,” while the great Johnny Dodds soloed on clarinet. “Oh, that record!” enthuses Ry Cooder. “That’s it, see. That’s the whole thing right there. That’s all you need to hear. And then you know: There’s a whole world we’ve all missed and will never know.” (The “C.C.” stood for “compound cathartic.”)
Dodds and Bertrand provided more crazy horn and percussion accompaniment on Blake’s raggy “Hot Potatoes” and the swinging “Southbound Rag.” Bertrand, Dodds, and Blake were also teamed on “Elzadie’s Policy Blues”/”Pay Day Daddy Blues” with Elzadie Robinson, a cabaret singer and chorus girl from Logansport, Louisiana. Blake was soon back in the studio with blues moaner Bertha Henderson and gospel crooner Daniel Brown. Bertha’s “Let Your Love Come Down” featured Blake playing stride piano with rocking solos. Working solo, Blake simultaneously played guitar and harmonica on “Panther Squall Blues.”
Blind Blake may have earned up to $50 per Paramount side, but Little Brother Montgomery claimed that the guitarist’s regular source of income during the late 1920s came from playing South Side Chicago house rent parties. With its piano in the living room, Blake’s apartment at 31st and Cottage Grove became a gathering place where Montgomery, Charlie Spand, Roosevelt Sykes, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and other musicians could slam moonshine and jam blues.
“I met Blind Blake in Chicago,” Ishman Bracey told Gayle Dean Wardlow, “but I couldn’t second him. He was too fast for me. Blind Blake, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, and Scrapper Blackwell–all of them guitar players was buckin’ one another. Blind Blake was too fast.”
Blake’s 1928 releases such as “Ramblin’ Mama Blues,” “Back Door Slam Blues,” “Cold Hearted Mama Blues,” and “Low Down Loving Gal” suggest he had bitter feelings towards women. His anger took a scary turn on “Notoriety Woman Blues,” during which he sang, “To keep her quiet I knocked her teeth out her mouth.” By contrast, Blake’s final recording that year, “Sweet Papa Low Down,” was a bouncy Charleston with piano, cornet, xylophone, and Blake’s own happy jiving.
The guitarist journeyed to Richmond, Indiana, in June ’29 for a series of sides with Alex Robinson on piano. “Slippery Rag” rocked the house with driving chords and mind-boggling solos. “Fightin’ The Jug” reinforced his reputation for being a heavy drinker:
“When I die, folks, without a doubt,
When I die, folks, without a doubt,
You won’t have to do nothin’ but pour me out”
That August, Blake was recorded at the height of his powers. He blasted toe-to-toe with Charlie Spand, Detroit’s premier piano boogieman, on “Hastings St. (Hastings St. Boogy),” named after a street in the city’s old black section. John Lee Hooker, who describes this track as “the real blues,” speculates that Blake may have lived in Detroit at some point, since Blake mentions a specific address, 169 Brady, during the song and then says, “Must be somethin’ there very marvelous, mm, mm, mm. I believe it’s somethin’ that’ll make you feel oh boy and how!”
Blake’s next selection, “Diddie Wa Diddie,” is a classic ragtime blues, with each break a minor masterpiece. Blake masterfully heightened the song’s rhythmic intensity by rushing to the root of a new chord an eighth-note before the next downbeat. With its beautiful lines, harmonic chimes, and bluesy bends, “Police Dog Blues” also showcases his consummate guitarmanship. He recorded “Chump Man Blues” at the same session. “Blind Blake was basically a ragtime guitar player,” notes Stefan Grossman, “but then he had things like ‘Chump Man Blues,’ which is a blues in D. It’s not as exciting as his playing in C or G, but it has an almost Bahaman, Joseph Spence sound.”
Blind Blake made a few more sides in Chicago later that summer–a 78 featuring Tiny Parham or Aletha Dickerson on piano, the agile instrumentals “Guitar Chimes” and “Blind Arthur’s Breakdown.” “Papa Charlie And Blind Blake Talk About It,” the first Blake 78 recorded at Paramount’s new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, joined two musical giants in a stuttering shuck-and-jive routine. With its exaggerated vocals and Jackson’s utilitarian banjo strums overwhelming the arrangement, the song wasn’t far removed from blackface minstrelsy. Blake was in fabulous form backing Irene Scruggs (billed as Chocolate Brown) during his next Grafton trip. Her “Itching Heel” no doubt struck a resonant chord among many women attached to bluesmen:
“He don’t do nothing but play on his old guitar,
While I’m busting suds out in the white folks’ yard”
Blake, in turn, responded to her verbal jabs with sped-up guitar parts.
Beginning with his May ’30 solo sides, the sheen was mostly gone from Blind Blake’s playing and singing. “When he started to drink too much–you can hear it towards the end–it just doesn’t work anymore,” observes Cooder. “He’s physically past it, because you’ve got to be sharp to sound that good.” He rekindled the old fire in “Righteous Blues” that December, and made a final appearance as a sideman in May ’31 behind Laura Rucker. Blake cut three 78s under his own name that year, but no copies of “Dissatisfied Blues” /”Miss Emma Liza (Sweetness)” or “Night And Day Blues”/”Sun To Sun” are known to survive.
His two-part “Rope Stretchin’ Blues” tells the woeful tale of a man who catches a stranger in his house, busts his head with a club, and winds up hanging for it.
The final Blind Blake release, the old Victorian music hall standard “Champagne Charlie Is My Name” backed by “Depression’s Gone From Me Blues,” which recycles the “Sitting On Top Of The World” melody, was recorded in Grafton during June 1932. But is it Blake? “Even though it says Blind Blake on the label on both sides,” says Gayle Dean Wardlow, “it seems like that last record’s a split side–one side is him, and one side is not him. ‘Depression’s Gone From Me Blues’–that’s Blake. I think ‘Champagne Charlie’ is by someone else–it doesn’t sound like Blake to me.” Grossman concurs: “That 78 doesn’t have his taste, his feel. Who knows? It might have been somebody else, even a different Blind Blake.”
It is often said that the later recordings have much less sparkle. Stefan Grossman and Gayle Dean Wardlow think its possible that only one side of Blake’s last record is actually by him. “Champagne Charlie Is My Name” does not actually sound like Blake’s playing or singing.
“The guitar was being played like a piano in almost all the areas of America except the Delta,” explains Stefan Grossman, “meaning that the left hand was literally doing that boom-chick, boom-chick pattern. Blake was able to use his right-hand thumb to syncopate it more, like a Charleston. He was very, very rhythmic and incredibly fast–I don’t know anyone who can get to that speed. That’s Blake’s real claim to fame, because his chord progressions are nothing fancy. But the thumb work is fantastic, and what he’s doing with his right hand set him apart from everyone. Rev. Gary Davis said Blake had a ‘sportin’ right hand.’ Davis took that and got into even more complicated modes.”
“I suspect Blind Blake was a three-finger picker,” offers Kaukonen, “and I have a sneaking suspicion he wore picks, because he had such a snappy, percussive sound and he’s not popping the strings the way bare-finger players do. His favorite keys were C, G, and E, although I’m pretty sure he could play in any of them if he wanted to.”
His complex and intricate finger picking has inspired Reverend Gary Davis, Jorma Kaukonen, Ry Cooder, Ralph McTell and many others including Leon Redbone.
Allegedly, Blind Blake was drinking heavily in his final years. It is likely that this led to his early death at only 40 years. The exact circumstances of his death are not known; Reverend Gary Davis said in an interview that he had heard Blake was killed by a streetcar in 1934. A similar theory is held up by Bob Groom who reported Blake wandered the South in the years between the wars spending time recording in Chicago. He was thought to be dead, but it seems that he actually returned to Atlanta when the Depression ended his career and was killed in a streetcar accident in 1941. Bill Williams reported Blake as a heavy drinker and recalled their Monday night “rehearsals” at Blake’s apartment were helped along by moonshine. Williams assumed Blake died of alcohol related causes. Josh White saw him no more after 1930 and believed he was murdered in the streets of Chicago. Big Bill Broonzy thought he died about 1932 in Joliet within sight of the prison that featured his blues. Pianist Blind John Davis believed he died in St. Louis in the 1930s, as he had been told by Tampa Red of this.
Huge portions lifted from http://www.gracyk.com/blake1.shtml