Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blind Blake's Enduring Legacy

While the origins of contemporary blues are most easily traced to the prototypical recordings of Charlie Patton and Skip James, the intricate blues and ragtime finger-picking of Blind Blake has probably left a deeper imprint on a wide range of guitar players since the 1930's. The Reverend Gary Davis cites Blake as a primary influence as did John Jackson, a blues and ragtime picker from Virginia who died in 2002. Well known contemporary guitarists Ry Cooder and Jorma Kaukonen also point to him as an inspiration, and Blake continues to inspire scores of imitators on Youtube, some much better than others. When I was in college back in the 1970's and fully immersed in the fascinating reissues from Yahoo records, there was one incredible guitar player, John Miller, whose astonishing covers of Blake and Bo Carter set a very high standard on his first Blue Goose LP, First Degree Blues, issued in 1972. Also recommended is Woody Mann's very informative instructional video on Blake's Black Dog Blues.
It is also interesting and significant that Arnold Shultz, the black blues guitarist from Kentucky, is generally credited for having influenced the thumb based Travis picking styles of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Shultz was an active player in the 1920's when Blake's Paramount recordings were making a splash and must have certainly been exposed to them. Obviously, the implication here is that Blake's unique and very popular style cast a very wide net in the 1920's and 30's, probably wider than the master is generally given credit for. After almost forty years of listening to him, I never get tired of hearing that wicked right thumb work double time.


  1. Yeah, Blake was supreme. Funny that you bring up Chet because I remember seeing an interview where he was saying that he was listening to a lot of Blind Blake. This was not long before Chet died and he said someone had sent him a tape, and that he's never heard heard Blake before that. He went on like "don't know how I missed this guy, one of the best finger pickers I ever heard".

  2. Excellent point Jack, thanks for bringing it to everyone's attention. Chet must have been influenced to some degree by Blake's style at an earlier time, probably through Shultz, but really this is pure speculation on my part. Thanks for stopping by.