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The Rough Guide To Ragtime Blues

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The Rough Guide To Ragtime Blues
The Rough Guide To Ragtime Blues


Made famous by the legendary Scott Joplin, ragtime developed in African-American communities throughout the southern part of the Midwest during the last decade of the nineteenth century and had a profound influence on many early blues performers. Combining the structure of marches with African-American songs and dances such as the cakewalk, ragtime's syncopated or 'ragged' rhythm was initially performed as dance music for the seedier side of society in areas where bars, dancehalls and brothels were located. Many blues guitarists attempted to reproduce the complicated piano sounds, as its faster rhythm created a more upbeat and lively feel, far removed from the typical intensity of early country blues. So, when ragtime went out of favour as jazz claimed the public's imagination, it had already entered the folk consciousness through the playing of blues greats such as Blind Blake, Reverend Gary Davis and Blind Boy Fuller. Many of the featured artists hailed from the Eastern States where the influence of ragtime was instrumental in creating the unique and much loved 'Piedmont' guitar style. Typically, the Piedmont guitarist would create an alternating rhythmic bass accompaniment by moving the thumb of the picking hand between the different bass strings of the guitar, whilst one or more fingers of the same hand would pick out the melody on the higher strings. Essentially this approach gives the impression that the guitar is being played like a piano. Blind Blake was the first commercially successful performer of this style, whose intricate fingerstyle technique and diverse repertoire ranging from upbeat rags and hokum tunes to slow blues numbers influenced all who followed, including the likes of Blind Boy Fuller and Reverend Gary Davis, and modern day guitarists Ry Cooder, John Fahey and Jorma Kaukonen. Away from the East Coast, Mississippi John Hurt was another who had a huge influence on guitarists past and present with a syncopated and danceable style of guitar playing accompaniment, completely different to that of his Mississippi regional brethren. Like the guitar style, the vocal delivery tends to be friendlier, more relaxed and without the tortured emotional intensity of the Delta blues. This gives the music an instant accessibility and warmth. Ragtime's musical ideas also showed up in the travelling medicine shows, where comic songs were popular. The chord progressions made a perfect foundation for what was to become known as 'hokum', humorous songs which used extended analogies or euphemistic terms to make sexual innuendos. Bo Carter was an early bluesman who became best known for his bawdy songs such as the featured 'Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me'. Hokum also crossed over to white musical traditions, highlighted by the Chattanooga-based "brother duet" the Allen Brothers with their popular comical version of 'Salty Dog Blues'. On the other side of the coin, Reverend Gary Davis used the brilliance of his ragtime playing to accompany his spiritual songs with mesmerizing results. Two towering giants of the blues, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton, also performed the odd novelty 'rag influenced' tune to vary their appeal as did country blues diva Memphis Minnie and the mysterious Geeshie Wiley, who teams up with her female compatriot Elvie Thomas for a wonderful rendition of Luke Jordan's 'Pick Poor Robin Clean'. Little is known about many of these artists, none more so than Willie Walker who only ever recorded two sides in 1930, with 'South Carolina Rag' being one of the absolute masterpieces of ragtime guitar playing. Other highlights to listen out for include 'Ragtime Millionaire' by the barbershop owner William Moore which harks back to the glory years of ragtime as well as the cakewalk inspired 'Money Never Runs Out' by Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers.


  1. Name
  2. Blind Willie McTell - Southern Can Is Mine
  3. Willie Walker - South Carolina Rag (Take 2)
  4. Blind Boy Fuller - Piccolo Rag
  5. Luke Jordan - Cocaine Blues
  6. Robert Wilkins - Old Jim Canan's
  7. Blind Blake - Blind Arthur's Breakdown
  8. Papa Charlie Jackson - Drop That Sack
  9. Bo Carter - Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me
  10. Memphis Minnie And Kansas Joe - Can I Do It For You - Part 1
  11. Dick Justice - Old Black Dog
  12. Beale Street Sheiks - Mr. Crump Don't Like It
  13. William Moore - Ragtime Millionaire
  14. Pillie Bolling - Shake Me Like A Dog
  15. Charlie McCoy - I've Been Blue Ever Since You Went Away
  16. Allen Brothers - Salty Dog Blues
  17. Blind Lemon Jefferson - Beggin' Back
  18. Big Bill Broonzy - Guitar Rag
  19. The Two Charlies - Pork Chop Blues
  20. Mississippi John Hurt - Got the Blues Can't Be Satisfied
  21. Charley Patton - Shake It And Break It (But Dont Let It Fall Mama)
  22. Troy Ferguson - You Better Keep It At Home
  23. Reverend Gary Davis - Have More Faith In Jesus
  24. Buddy Boy Hawkins - Raggin' The Blues
  25. Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas - Pick Poor Robin Clean
  26. Cannon's Jug Stompers - Money Never Runs Out
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