Posts Tagged ‘ragtime’

“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.

His playing

“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


Blind Blake

“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”.

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”). 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 area.

Blind Blake recorded about 80 tracks for Paramount Records between 1926 and 1932.[1] 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.

According to many sources, his real name was Arthur Phelps, although concrete evidence for this claim is lacking.[3] 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 first recordings were made in 1926 and his records sold very well. His first solo record was “Early Morning Blues” with “West Coast Blues” on the B-side. Both are considered excellent examples of his ragtime-based guitar style and are prototypes for the burgeoning Piedmont blues. Blake made his last recordings in 1932, the end of his career aided by Paramount’s bankruptcy. 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.[4] “Champagne Charlie Is My Name” does not actually sound like Blake’s playing or singing. 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.)

His complex and intricate finger picking has inspired Reverend Gary Davis, Jorma Kaukonen, Ry Cooder, Ralph McTell and many others including Leon Redbone.

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