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Use your instrument to play the blues. Don't use the blues to play your instrument - James Harman

Author Topic: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?  (Read 3085 times)

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Offline outfidel

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Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« on: May 31, 2005, 01:00:02 PM »
I just re-read a pretty good article on the evolution of country fingerpicking. Consider these 8 seminal fingerpickers:

Blind Blake (b. 1893, Florida)
Rev Gary Davis (b. 1896, South Carolina)
John Hurt (b. 1893, Missississippi)
Furry Lewis (b. 1893, Mississippi)
Sam McGee (b. 1894, Tennessee)
Arnold Shultz (b. 1886, Kentucky)
Frank Stokes (b. 1888, Tennessee)
Sylvester Weaver (b. 1897, Kentucky)

I'm very curious about the anthropology of country fingerpicking. How did these & other guitarists of the day simultaneously develop a fairly common fingerpicking technique in the days before recordings, radio and the interstate highway? Did each of them borrow from older banjo styles, common throughout the south, and apply them to the guitar? Or did they learn from traveling guitarists who served as the "Johnny Appleseeds" of the new guitar style?
« Last Edit: May 31, 2005, 01:12:13 PM by outfidel »
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Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2005, 01:22:17 PM »

   That is indeed a great article.

   I have no information to help with the answer to your question, but as we all know, Anthropologists are fascinated with the concept of "spontaneous, independent invention"
   I believe that a pretty good example of this is the Jew's Harp coming into existence all over the world, in many varied cultures at pretty much the same time in history.
   Perhaps that might account for all of these guitarists developement.
.
   I'm sure we've all experienced coming up with something on the guitar, just through experimentation and then later finding someone else, possibly an earlier guitarist than ourselves, that plays the same thing.


Offline crookedtune

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2005, 03:50:12 PM »
I'm not sure why you folks haven't been able to learn from the cultural anthropologists of our own generation.? The answer is simple:? When strikingly similar phenomena occur at drastically separated locations on the globe, (think pyramids, tales of Atlantis, creation stories, crop circles, and the like......), it is explainable in only one way --- alien visitations.

I have no doubt that a careful analysis of the works of Charley Patton and those of his generation would yield a bounty of clues regarding abductions, psycho-sexual torture, and perhaps the injection of nanotechnology-based Mel Bay learning modules.? In fact, Robert Johnson is quite likely being stored cryogenically somewhere in the Andromeda nebula as we speak!? ? ?.....just a theory....

Offline outfidel

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2005, 04:52:23 PM »
it is explainable in only one way --- alien visitations.

That reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live skit, talking about the satellite that had been launched into deep space containing sounds from earth: ocean waves, babbling brooks, and the music of Beethoven, Mozart & Chuck Berry.

In the skit, Jane Curtin is reporting on the first message on earth received from extraterrestrials: "Send More Chuck Berry"[/i]

 :)
« Last Edit: May 31, 2005, 04:54:07 PM by outfidel »
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crawley

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2005, 11:20:32 PM »
im with you crooked tune. it's the only explanation that make sens

Offline BlindSockeyeSalmon

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2005, 08:36:38 PM »
Quote
How did these & other guitarists of the day simultaneously develop a fairly common fingerpicking technique in the days before recordings, radio and the interstate highway?

I think you are begging the question here. I don't think they did simultaneously develop it -- look at sheet music of "Sebastopol" from 1880 or "Spanish Fandango" from 1888 for a couple of obvious antecedents that existed before the musicians cited were out of short pants.

Here is an excerpt from John Stropes's excellent "20th Century Masters of Fingerstyle Guitar":

Quote
Today the history of this style seems to be partially ignored and partially misunderstood. It did not first appear in the late 1920's coincidentally with the advent of modern recordings. This style did not start among black folk musicians just after the turn of the century. No single person such as Merle Travis (Travis picking) can be given credit for its origin. And this is not folk guitar.

...

In the Complete Catalogue of Sheet Music And Musical Works, 1870, which was published by the Board of Trade of the United States of America and which containied listings of the twenty leading musical publishing firms in the U.S., you will find 714 titles for solo guitar and approximately 2,000 for voice with guitar accompaniment (By guitar accompaniment I do not mean the sort of haphazard chord diagrams found in most sheet msuic published today. These guitar accompaniment parts were written out in standard notation parallel to the melody.) Many examples can be found in guitar music from this period of the right hand thumb playing a regular alternating bass line. Dropped D tuning and open tunings were very common. The guitar was experiencing a period of great vitality in America in the late 1880's.



Phew...

Anyway, I hope that's illuminating. I'd say the roots of country fingerpicking technique go back at least 2 generations earlier than the people cited. We just don't have the benefit of recordings, to document what was played, by  whom, and where, and when.

John
« Last Edit: June 06, 2005, 05:18:50 AM by BlindSockeyeSalmon »
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Offline outfidel

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2005, 08:32:43 AM »
Hey John,

Great info. I forgot to cite the influence of 19th century "parlor style" guitar playing on 20th century fingerpicking. For instance, here's the fingerpicking geneology in western Kentucky, as I understand it:

Merle Travis learned thumbpicking from Mose Rager (1911-1985).

Rager learned it from Kennedy Jones as well as Arnold Shultz (1886-1931).

Kennedy Jones learned it from his mother, Alice DeArmond Jones (1863-1945), who played parlor-style guitar in the years following the Civil War.

Who knows where Alice Jones learned it from -- perhaps her mother too? In any event, I imagine the pre-history of traditional fingerpicking guitar is populated with many women like Alice Jones.
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Offline waxwing

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2005, 10:03:43 PM »
I hesitate to make any statements without chapter and verse to back it up, but I believe in Paul Oliver's Savannah Syncopators he talks about traditional African musicians playing stringed instruments and plucking the strings with fingers and thumb. Now, of course, this was in the 1960s so they could have learned it from Mose Rager, too, but they were playing on gourd instruments more akin to the banyo. I'm inclined to think your original thought in this direction was correct, Michael, at least to some extent. African American slaves who had an aptitude for music were often pressed into service as musicians and could very well have contributed to the general technique, all at a much earlier time. As, I said, this is from memory. Anyone really interested could find a copy and look it up. Mine is currently packed away.
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Muddyroads

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2005, 05:40:26 AM »
You can't look at a style of performance outside of its cultural context.  The influence of parlor styles of guitar, the existence of ragtime as apopular musicla style,  and the drive to provide a dancible beat like a piano player, were all influential to the development of "country style" fingerpicking guitar.  The truth is wel are looking at a small and somewhat random sampling of much larger population of guitar players that included many who were never recorded or documented.  Bear in mind, many early artists did not want to record thier work as they were afraid that it would be "stolen"   by those who had access to it.  This ability to play music was considered a rare and valuable talent. It was the enticement of promised riches, higher viability and other  factors that  lead these folks to become known commercial artists, or legendary figures.

 In some cases Arnold Shultz and Mose  Rager have taken on legendary status with little or no known documented facts about them.  They reside in lore and legend more than in some vast repository of recorded or annotated music.  How many others who were as accomplished as these two throughout the south?  How many great guitarists were  never recorded or were never know outside of their home area?  How many great musicians have you known personally that have never pursued music as a career but still had a small sphere of influence?

When seen in this context, it is very unlikely that much of anything happened  spontaneously or from extraterrestrial sources.  Pop culture existed and disseminated information quite well 150 years go, just not at the speed with which it conducts itself today.

Just my 2 cents,

Mud

Offline BlindSockeyeSalmon

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #9 on: June 08, 2005, 06:17:24 AM »
Quote
Pop culture existed and disseminated information quite well 150 years go, just not at the speed with which it conducts itself today.

Yes, and 2 factors no doubt accelerated this trend in the mid-19th century: the railroad, and the Civil War.
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2013, 07:57:07 PM »
Hi all,
I believe there is film footage of Mose Rager available on YouTube now.  Somebody posted it on facebook recently and it was pretty great.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2013, 07:44:01 PM »
Yes, John, the Mose Rager stuff is actually audio, but it's pretty cool. Just search Mose Rager on YouTube.

The article that starts this thread has some discussion that refers pretty heavily to Sylvester Weaver, and got me listening pretty heavily to him, which I haven't done in quite some time. Not a bad thing at all. Anyway, it got me thinking that there really don't seem to be many black blues players from Weaver's area--he was from Louisville, KY--that were recorded in the pre-war era, at least not that I can think of. A little googling reveals that Clifford Gibson was from Louisville before moving to St. Louis at about the age of 17.

Anyone else come to mind?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2013, 10:48:13 PM »
The Rager footage that I saw was posted by a Japanese fan on facebook and it was performance footage of him, and included an in-person interview, too.  I was unable to find it on YouTube, where everything was audio-only, as you noted, Kokomo O.
All best,
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Offline dj

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Re: Country fingerpicking - evolution of a style?
« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2013, 03:46:44 AM »
Quote
Anyway, it got me thinking that there really don't seem to be many black blues players from Weaver's area--he was from Louisville, KY--that were recorded in the pre-war era, at least not that I can think of. A little googling reveals that Clifford Gibson was from Louisville before moving to St. Louis at about the age of 17.

Anyone else come to mind?

Bill Gaither and his accompanist, Honey Hill, are the major ones that come to mind.  Also a lot of jazzy jug bands, involving people like Whistler, Earl McDonald, and Clifford Hayes.  Among women singers, Helen Humes and Sara Martin.  I get the feeling that there was a bigger musical scene going on in Louisville than the recordings indicate.     

 


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