MP3 Various Artists - Pick a Peck of Piedmont Pickers
A collation of modern masters of Piedmont Blues
14 MP3 Songs in this album (39:59) !
Related styles: Blues: East Coast Blues, Blues: Acoustic Blues, Featuring Guitar
People who are interested in Andy Cohen Blind Blake Rev. Gary Davis should consider this download.
The name “Piedmont” refers to the region between the Appalachian Mountains
and the Atlantic coastal plain where the style evolved. Geographically, the
region describes a fat crescent from Maryland and East Virginia in the north to
northern Alabama in the west, with its axis on the eastern slope of the Appala–
Piedmont blues essentially translates ragtime piano to guitar. Also known
as “East Coast Blues,” or “finger–picking” style, it differs from the more widely
heard Delta style in that the picking thumb plays a piano–like bass line on the
guitar (usually alternating octaves or fifths). The melodic right–hand part is
picked out, originally, by the index finger, this being a retention of African
playing. During the 1960s Mississippi John Hurt’s (1892–1966) two–fingered
style was copied so much by young revivalists that it now seems natural to play
with thumb, index and middle fingers, but Rev. Gary Davis (1896–1972) and
Arthur “Blind” Blake (1893–1933) used only the index finger.
This style also differs from Delta blues in that the music is fitted for step
dancing, rather than slow couple dancing. Traditionally played by musicians of
African descent, the two–finger up–picking style made its way into White
society both on banjo and guitar before the turn of the 20th century, and was
widely used by both men and women of both races.
Most of the cities in the Piedmont — Montgomery, Columbia, Charlotte,
Greensboro, Alexandria and Richmond, for example — were prosperous
trading centers, situated at the western–most navigable parts of rivers, where
goods were exchanged and transferred from water to land transport in the 18th
and 19th centuries. Most of these became important railroad hubs in the latter
part of the 19th century and into the 20th. Those railroads, particularly the
Southern Railroad, which was completed in 1893 and ran from Memphis to
Washington, D.C., brought mass–produced “catalogue” instruments from
Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, along with high button shoes and
crank–wringer washing machines. The combination of relative wealth and
active in–and–out migration contributed to the climate of sophistication, and
allowed musicians to work as entertainers, in addition to playing music for their
own and their friends and families’ enjoyment.
Pianos, rare in the rural Delta area, were ubiquitous in Piedmont cities and
towns (Richmond, Baltimore and Greensboro all had thriving piano manufac–
tories in the latter half of the 19th Century). Many of the seminal players — Blake
(1893–1933), Bill Broonzy (1898–1958) and Tampa Red (1904–1981) among
them — also played the piano. Davis often told his students that to play guitar
properly you had to make it sound like a piano.
The Piedmont playing tradition, which began in the early to mid–1920s, has
been a long and unbroken one, with 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th generation practi–
tioners taking the older folks’ place, including Etta Baker (1913–2006), Archie
Edwards (1918–1998), John Jackson (1924–2002) and John Cephas (1930–
2009). More current players include Larry Johnson (b. 1939), Roy Book Binder
(b. 1943) and a host of other students of Davis and Baker, including the players
heard on this recording.
The very best of the Piedmont pickers, chief among them Blake and Willie
McTell (1898–1959), played amazingly intricate bass lines with their thumbs
(McTell on a 12–string, at that!). Listen for the piano–style bass lines, ranging
from stride “bottom” to boogie–woogie, in these recordings.
the players… As a mediocre guitar picker myself, I’ve always admired those who
have mastered this style of playing. As a piano player of some accomplishment, I also
appreciate the guitar style’s roots in ragtime and early stride piano (e.g. Leroy Carr
(1905–1935), James P. Johnson (1894–1955), Georgia Tom Dorsey (1899–1993) et al). I
cover a fair number of Piedmont blues on the piano, and delight in telling the audience
that if they listen closely they “Can hear my piano imitating a guitar imitating a piano.”
I’m delighted to have been able to gather such a distinguished and talented array of
players on Pick a Peck of Piedmont Pickers (WI-015). —“Ragtime” Jack Radcliffe
Cincinnati Flow: You can make any number of guesses as to
which piano rags inspired this Gary Davis
virtuoso piece, but Joplin’s Slow Drag is as
good as any. Davis said that he learned it
from his guitar playing pal, Willie Walker.
This is a classic example of simple structure
coupled with strong execution for best
effect. The embellishments and ornaments
are clever enough, but it’s the syncopated
two–feel that makes it such fun to play —
and listen or dance to.
We’ve inserted this cover that Andy
Cohen and I cut originally for Four Hands
No Waiting (WI-006), because it illustrates
that point far better than words can
describe it. —“Ragtime” Jack Radcliffe
Andy Cohen, now living in Memphis, is also a scholar of the music and its
cultural context, and is one of an illustrious few who have the “received
knowledge” that comes from hand–to–hand transfer of the craft. He has made
traditional American music his life’s work, and is a frequent contributor to
Sing Out! Magazine. He helped in the founding of the Mississippi John Hurt
Museum in Avalon, Mississippi, and in running the annual blues festival there.
Briefly a “lead boy” for Rev. Gary Davis, he has studied Davis’s playing all his
adult life. He also befriended and learned directly from Jim Brewer (1920–
1988), David “Honeyboy” Edwards (b. 1915) and Etta Baker to name a few.
He’s a great teacher himself, so he is also passing the tradition on to a new
generation of players — including Mike Higgins (see below).
Gareth Hedges is a Southerner — from the South of England (Devon, to be
exact)! Gareth learned traditional American songs as the road manager for
many roots musicians from this country who were performing in Europe
during the late ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. Bill Monroe (1911–1996) and the Blue–
grass Boys, old–time banjo player Clarence Ashley (1895–1967), Gary Davis,
slide guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell (1904–1972) and blues piano player
Curtis Jones (1906–1971) were among his mentors. His is a refreshingly light
touch on the guitar — with a lacy melodic line to complement a rock–solid,
yet syncopated bass.
Mike Higgins’ guitar playing has gone full circle — from early years spent
admiring contemporary players like David Bromberg and Tom Rush and
through them listening to and studying Gary Davis and Blind Blake — to two
decades playing electric guitar in cover bands — to a reaffirmation of the
masters who led him to the guitar in the first place. He’s also writing material
that’s brand new, but squarely in the tradition (Beantown Rag). He divides his
time among teaching and operating a small recording studio in his home–
town of Taunton, Massachusetts, and performing both locally and nationally.
Russ Mello studied for several years with Paul Geremia, himself a student
and friend to many of the early players, Pink Anderson (1900–1974), Son
House (1902–1988) and Howlin’ Wolf (1910–1976) among them. In a way, that
makes Russ a third–generation practitioner of the art. Paul once said of Russ’s
playing, “I can’t show him anything more!” His version of Rope Stretching
Blues illustrates Paul’s point perfectly. Russ has also developed a terrific body
of work from the tradition of the Memphis jug bands — who were also
influenced by ragtime piano stylists. He currently resides in Mattapoisett,
Lauren Sheehan was a friend, student and disciple of Etta Baker, John
Cephas and John Jackson, among others. They’ve all passed on now, but their
music definitely lives on in Lauren’s playing. Originally from New England,
Lauren spent several years in Virginia learning her craft before moving to
Portland, Oregon, where she now makes her home. Lauren first heard and
began to learn country blues from National Heritage fellows and others in
1993 in Port Townsend, Washington, at the Centrum Country Blues Festival
and workshop. Those players had direct links to pre–war acoustic blues from
Piedmont to Mississippi and over the years passed on a lot of music, stylistic
nuances and qualities as well as their cultural and social context. Her main
influences from this group of players are Jackson, Howard Armstrong (1909–
2003), Baker, Cephas, Algia Mae Hinton (b. 1929), Jerry Ricks (1940–2007),
Phil Wiggins (b. 1954) and John Dee Holeman (b. 1929).