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My guitar was loud as hell, and I had no sympathy for anybody else - Brownie McGhee

Author Topic: John Cephas  (Read 7562 times)

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Offline Peter McCracken

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John Cephas
« on: March 04, 2009, 09:44:41 AM »
Hello friends,

I'm sorry to report that John Cephas passed this morning. At this point, I'm just feeling blessed to have known him, worked with him, seen him every year. He has meant an lot to me, and his influence on The PT workshop would be hard to measure.

In the next little bit we'll celebrate his life and legacy, probbaly starting on the Centrum website.

More soon,

Peter

Offline lindy

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2009, 10:18:20 AM »

Hearing him play Illinois Blues at the end of my very first class with him.

Hearing him for the 50th time saying there are only three things to remember about guitar playing, "Practice, practice, practice."

Hearing him at the Public House going to another level with Phil in live performance.

So many good memories I have of him, especially that little laugh of his that was always near the surface.

Thank you John, and thanks Peter for setting up the situation so that John could be such a big part of PT.

Just before I read Peter's message I was watching Lightnin' Wells' video of One Kind Favor, very fitting.

My best to John's family and to Phil.

Lindy

Offline GhostRider

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2009, 10:19:28 AM »
That is a damn shame.

I remember him sitting in the livingroom of the Weeniehouse my first PT, playing with Warner Williams and Eddie Pennington. That was a magical moment. He was my must-take instructer my first year.

A genuine nice fellow. And a great blues singer.

Alex

Offline Bald Melon Jefferson

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2009, 11:41:11 AM »
Seeing John and Phil play in Carlsbad last year was great. then taking daily skip James lessons with him at PT last summer..... a real highlight in my life.
Not just a great player but a very fine teacher and gentleman as well. I have him on tape telling us "...And singing falsetto like Skip is real easy...easier than you think... you just open up and do it."  We'll see, feel like it's time to finally going to go to give it a try.
All my best to John's family and friends.
Gary
Support the Music Maker Relief Foundation

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2009, 11:42:48 AM »
From Alligator Records

PIEDMONT BLUES GUITARIST AND VOCALIST JOHN CEPHAS, 1930 - 2009

?Wonderfully rich vocals and jaunty acoustic guitar. Plenty of spirit and soul, humor and sorrow.? The Washington Post

"Blues music is truth.? John Cephas

Master blues guitarist and vocalist John Cephas died of natural causes on Wednesday, March 4, 2009. He was 78. Well known as one half of the award-winning Piedmont blues duo Cephas & Wiggins, John?s remarkable and delicate finger picking and rich, baritone vocals placed him firmly at the forefront of acoustic blues artists. John received a National Heritage Fellowship Award (often called the ?Living Treasure Award?) in 1989. This is the highest honor the U.S. Government offers a traditional artist. Two weeks ago, John was honored as one of eight black trailblazers as designated by the Library of Virginia's African American History Month.

John Cephas, along with his harmonica playing partner Phil Wiggins, performed thousands of concerts and festivals all over the world. Often under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, the two spent much of the 1980s abroad, playing Europe, Africa, Central and South America, China, Australia and New Zealand. In 1988, they were among the first Americans to perform at the Russian Folk Festival in Moscow. In 1997 Cephas & Wiggins performed for President Bill Clinton. In addition, John appeared on stage portraying a blind bluesman in the Kennedy Center production of Blind Man Blues. He also appeared in a production of Zora Neal Hurston?s play, Polk County, in Washington, D.C.

Among his many endeavors, John served on the Executive Committee of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and has testified before Congressional committees. He is also a founder of the Washington, D.C. Blues Society. ?More than anything else,? said John, ?I would like to see a revival of country blues by more young people?more people going to concerts, learning to play the music. That?s why I stay in the field of traditional music. I don?t want it to die.?

John Cephas was born in Washington, D.C. in 1930 into a deeply religious family and raised in Bowling Green, Virginia. His first taste of music was gospel, but blues soon became his calling. After learning to play the alternating thumb and fingerpicking guitar style that defines Piedmont blues, John began emulating the records he heard by Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis and other early blues artists. Aside from playing blues, John worked early on as a professional gospel singer, carpenter and Atlantic fisherman. By the 1960s, he was starting to make a living from his music.

John first met his future partner Phil Wiggins in 1976 at the Smithsonian National Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and the two quickly formed a duo. By the early 1980s, the international blues community recognized this marvelous acoustic twosome as the leading exponents of traditional Tidewater blues. While overseas in 1981, they recorded two albums, Living Country Blues and Sweet Bitter Blues, for the German L&R label. Cephas & Wiggins recorded their first domestic album, Dog Days Of August (Flying Fish Records), in 1987 in John?s living room, and it quickly won a Blues Music Award for Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year.

In 1996, Cephas & Wiggins made their Alligator Records debut with Cool Down. They followed up with Homemade, Somebody Told The Truth and Shoulder To Shoulder. Their most recent CD, 2009?s Richmond Blues, was released on the Smithsonian Folkways label.


Offline NotRevGDavis

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2009, 01:11:21 PM »
One of the nicest human beings I have ever met.
Got the name, still workin' on the licks!

Offline Slack

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2009, 01:27:26 PM »
A truly kind and generous man.  I have an indelible moment of John playing one of Ron Phillip's "trashcan" resonators... my first year at PT.  It was late (I'm sure he'd had a few to drink), sitting right in front of him watching and listening to him play - he had an unbelievable groove going that sent chills down my spine.

Keep "mashing two strings with one finger" John, we're going to miss you.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2009, 01:31:59 PM »
Wow, I'm shocked. John was slowing down a little, but he looked like he was in pretty good shape last summer. I suppose I knew he was 78 but he sure as hell didn't look it.

Since John Jackson's passing, I guess you could say John Cephas had been the elder statesman of the Port Townsend workshop. He's going to be sorely missed. I always liked hearing him play I Saw the Light - he'd get a full head of steam going and just churn through it, looking happy as all get out.

My condolences to his family and friends, Centrum buddies, and of course to Phil.

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2009, 03:00:37 PM »
I'm sorry to hear of John's passing.  He was a flame-keeper for Piedmont blues, which he particularly loved.  He had a distinctive lope to his playing and an especially beautiful singing voice.  I remember hearing him sing the Louvin Brothers song, "When I Stop Dreaming", many years ago and feeling as though he would be a great candidate for recording a Country album like Ray Charles did in the late '50s.  He is one of the very last of his generation who was still active musically so his death seems somewhat valedictory for a whole way of playing and being in the world.  My thoughts and best wishes go out to Lynn and his children and Phil, and his many friends around the world.  For those of you who may not have seen it, John and Phil put out a new CD on Smithsonian/Folkways last fall, "Richmond Blues", with many of the real standards on it:  "Black Rat Swing", "Crow Jane", "Key to the Highway", "Going down the Road feeling Bad", "Careless Love", and others.  It's a great way to remember John and the music he and Phil made together.
So long, John
Johnm   

Offline oddenda

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John Cephas
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2009, 04:27:01 PM »
I have just received word that the great John Cephas has died in Virginia. He was a true gentleman, a fine guitarist, and a gorgeous singer. Being the first person to record Cephas (at the behest of pianist Big Chief Ellis) was a treat - it's trite to say "the last of the...", but there is a modicum of truth in that. He will be missed by us all, more than we'll realize for some time to come. We never did get that album out, but others filled the need.

Peter B.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2009, 06:34:37 PM by oddenda »

Offline Rivers

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2009, 04:56:41 PM »
This is sad and terrible news.

Rest In Peace Mr Cephas.

The weenies will never forget the happy times we were privileged to spend with you at Port Townsend.

Offline Rivers

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2009, 05:11:17 PM »
I'll never forget my first year at Port Townsend, 1997, where I first met many of you. That week blew my head off. I have indelible memories of Jerry Ricks and John Cephas playing music and generally partying after hours in Officers' Row. John was hilarious and deeply serious at the same time and I never could predict what he would say or do, Ricks likewise, and now they're both gone. Life is so bitter-sweet sometimes.

My deepest condolences to family and friends.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2009, 05:12:20 PM by Rivers »

Offline markm

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2009, 06:22:38 PM »
What a terrible shock. He was such a gentle soul.

I remember one time backstage at the big auditorium during the Saturday night concert, Lousianna Red and John and few others were sitting around (I got to be there because I lent Red my National).  Red had just gotten off stage and had come backstage.  Of course Red had gone on about sending help and money to Iraq and Africa for the children.  John kind of baited Red by asking him about that.  Of course Red said how important it was. Then John said, Forget Iraq I got kids in my neighborhood that need the damn money!"  Then he started off on a monologue with impecable comedic timing all about the kids in his neighborhood and around his town and in this country and "forget Irag, etc.  I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants.  The more flustered Red would get the more John would riff.  I will always remember that scene.

I will sorely miss John.  Great musician, great teacher, wonderful human being.  My heart goes out to his family and Phil and his family as well.

Offline oddenda

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2009, 07:59:37 PM »
Technical question. Is there a reason why this thread isn't in the main forum? I'd think John was so deserving.

Peter B.

Offline Rivers

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Re: John Cephas
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2009, 08:10:30 PM »
Peter, I hear what you say. I think it's because John meant a lot to those of us who would see him over the years at the Centrum workshop. I guess we're pretty Centrum-centric in that respect, try as hard as we might to be independent. For many of us the Port Townsend board represents where it all kind of started, or at least got serious, so it's not discounting John to have his topic reside here, on the contrary.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2009, 08:12:20 PM by Rivers »

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