THE SALT OF THE EARTH

1920s-30s
Piedmont blues

Piedmont acoustic blues is often neglected in favor of its more legendary Mississippi Delta cousin. Yet its performers were equally as talented as Charley Patton, Son House and company, if only playing with different regional accents.

The Piedmont refers to that southeastern region of the United States in the Appalachians which runs from Virginia through to the Carolinas and on to Georgia, although the Piedmont-style practitioners hailed from as south as Florida and as north as Maryland. All the musicians had their own style, but the commonalities usually involved a lot of fingerpicking and a greater openness to non-blues genres such as ragtime and country, as well as featuring a lot of the open tunings and complex rhythmic syncopations of Delta blues. Because the Piedmont stylists recorded a wider repertoire of genres, their themes also tended to be less relentlessly dark as those of the Delta musicians. Its practitioners included Blind Boy Fuller, Furry Lewis, Barbecue Bob, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and especially Blind Blake and Blind Willie McTell. (A lot of the Piedmont acoustic players, like many blues acoustic players in general, were blind, because guitar playing and therefore street or party-entertaining was one of the few vocations available to poor African Americans with that handicap. If they had the talent, of course.) The Piedmont players were recorded in the same era as the Delta players, in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

When the Stones, and Keith in particularly, really got into acoustic blues and open tunings around 1968, the discovery of the Piedmont artists went hand in hand with that of the Delta players.
 
 

BLIND BLAKE  (c. 1895-1933)

Born in Florida, Blake was an itinerant performer for most of his short life, playing in vaudeville shows, sometimes accompanying female blues singers. He finally established himself in Chicago where he became renowned as a master fingerpicker and a player whose ability to introduce simultaneous rhythms and melodic lines anticipated the ability of Robert Johnson's similar talent. His recorded work testifies to this. Blake died, like Johnson, in mysterious circumstances. In the 1960s, with the folk and blues revival, Blake was especially revered, and influenced Ry Cooder among others.

Reminds me a bit of Blind Blake... Same inflection, with the double-voice chat going on underneath... The style is incredibly similar. But it's interesting because when you listen to Blind Blake, you can almost hear the crossovers going on.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1992, after listening to an obscure
Robert Johnson suggested by the interviewer

 

BLIND WILLIE MCTELL  (1901-1959)

Born in Georgia, Mitchell is one of acoustic blues' best vocalists and guitarists. Starting to record in the late 1920s, he played a 12-string acoustic guitar on which he not only used tremendous rhythm, but also an extremely sophisticated technique of simultaneous guitar picking and slide playing. He is one of the all-time greatest slide acoustic guitar players. In addition, he wrote and recorded many classics like Statesboro Blues and Broke Down Engine Blues. McTell's recordings stopped in the mid 1930s because of the Depression, as with most acoustic blues artists. He was rediscovered periodically in the 1940s and the '50s but the recordings never equaled his earlier songs in quality or success. He remained successful in his home state of Georgia, however, performing until near the end of his life. He became an alcoholic, however, and in the mid-'50s he quit music to become a pastor. He died of a stroke in 1959, just at the beginning of the blues and folk revival.

McTell frequently used D tuning and he was one of the guitarists from who Keith learned that specific tuning in 1968, before he even discovered G tuning. In addition, Ronnie was a terrific Blind Willie McTell fan from his early days before the Stones.


Written by Ian McPherson, 2000.
Like all files on Time Is On Our Side, it is the exclusive intellectual property
of Ian McPherson and cannot be duplicated, in any form, without his authorization.

Back to Search by Music Genre Menu

Back to Main Page