Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Fingerpicker

Blake, Blind

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The First Shredder

Everyone who cares about the art of the guitar needs to know about Blind Blake, one of the men of mystery and intrigue roaming the blues highway in the 1920s and '30s. Arguably the first guitar shredder, Blake specialized in what's known as "ragtime guitar," which requires guitarists to mimic the lockstep boom-chink ragtime rhythms more commonly played on piano. For some practitioners, just keeping the beat going was challenge enough. Blake had no trouble there—his rhythm rocks like a freight train, steady and strong. He then added a level of difficulty, lacing deft ad-libbed ideas into every available break.

These are bursts of pure genius, and a primary attraction of this twenty-three-track career overview. On most pieces, Blake starts out singing, in the unremarkable manner of countless early bluesmen. Accompanying himself, he sometimes generates enough rhythm to sound like a full band; as tunes like "Diddie Wa Diddie" and "Too Tight Blues #2" progress, Blake drops in conceptually forward-looking phrases that sparkle with a spirit of impromptu composition, a just-makin'-it-up-as-we-go-along invention. At times these lively creations suggest a strange dichotomy: Blake's singing aligns with the conventions of the 1920s, while the guitar playing suggests the more daring approaches associated with the late '40s.

Little is known about Blake, who recorded approximately eighty tracks for Paramount between 1926 and his death in 1933. He was revered by musicians yet not a star in any sense. He died in obscurity, even though his high-stepping up-tempo rambles and chilling tales of death ("Rope Stretching Blues") have really no equal in his time. To amaze and astound the guitar hero in your life, cue up "Blind Arthur's Breakdown." Some great guitar minds of today are still baffled by that one.

Genre: Blues
Released: 1990, Yazoo
Key Tracks: "Blind Arthur's Breakdown," "Diddie Wa Diddie," "One Time Blues," "Southern Rag," "Rope Stretching Blues."
Next Stop: Blind Boy Fuller: Truckin' My Blues Away
After That: Blind Lemon Jefferson: The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson
Book Page: 94

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