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Fuller was a student of Gary Davis who was in turn a student of Blind Willie Walker, the legendary all-round Master of ragtime and fingerpicking blues guitar. Reverend Davis said that ‘Walker was the best that ever done it’ which is testimony to Walker’s skill – Davis wasn’t known for giving out compliments! Yes, South Carolina was a breeding ground for the ragtime picking genre and as in many states, each particular area had it’s own sound and style. It’s strange to remember that although Gary Davis was undoubtedly the better fingerstyle guitarist, he had nowhere near the commercial success of Fuller, probably because he wasn’t a slave to commercialism.
Short Blind Boy Fuller Biography
Fulton Allen, 1908, Wadesboro, North Carolina, USA, d. 13 February 1941, USA. One of a large family, Fuller learned to play the guitar as a child and had begun a life as a transient singer when he was blinded, either through disease or when lye water was thrown in his face. By the late 20s he was well known throughout North Carolina and Virginia, playing and singing at county fairs, tobacco farms and on street corners. At one time he worked with two other blind singers, Sonny Terry and Gary Davis. Among his most popular numbers were ‘Rattlesnakin’ Daddy’, ‘Jitterbug Rag’ (on which he demonstrated his guitar technique) and the bawdy ‘What’s That Smells Like Fish?’ (later adapted by Hot Tuna as ‘Keep On Truckin’’) and ‘Get Your Yas Yas Out’. At one point in his career he was teamed with Brownie McGhee. In 1940 in Chicago, Fuller’s style had become gloomy, as can be heard on ‘When You Are Gone’. Hospitalized for a kidney operation, Fuller contracted blood poisoning and died on 13 February 1941.
One of the foremost exponents of the Piedmont blues style, there was a strong folk element in Fuller’s work. The manner in which he absorbed and recreated stylistic patterns of other blues forms made him an important link between the earlier classic country blues and the later urbanized forms. Among the singers he influenced were Buddy Moss, Floyd Council, Ralph Willis and Richard Trice. (Shortly after Fuller’s death Brownie McGhee was recorded under the name Blind Boy Fuller No. 2.)
Article Source: http://www.oldies.com/artist-biography/Blind-Boy-Fuller.html
Fingerpicking The Blues – Blind Boy Fuller Ragtime Guitar
In those days, musicians were paid by session, and was often less than 50 dollars. After playing, the guys were paid in cash and that was the end of the relationship, without any further payments based sales. The recording studio own the recordings and the songs, which of course was extreme exploitation. Davis did record some tracks at the same time as Fuller but there was a dispute over payment, and he decided not to pursue that particular way, preferring to renounce the blues completely after he became ordained as a minster. For many years he played and sang Gospel blues on the streets of Harlem where he lived.
Perhaps it was just the fact that many blues men didn’t really travel far and were heavily influenced by their contemporaries. For example, down in the Mississippi at the same time that Fuller and Davis were learning their trade, Robert Johnson was following Son house around and absorbing is style. Johnson’s 26 sides show a style steeped in the Delta Power but with a sophistication and delicacy that must have been picked up on his travels North to Chicago with people such as Johnny Shines.
It’s been suggested for example that Johnson’s recordings are just too fast, and that if they are slowed down they sound uncannily like Son House at his frenetic best. In my own experience, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain your own style of playing when surrounded by so many guitarists with great styles. When in the formative years, student guitar players tend to be like sponges, just sucking up all the blues picking styles they can at the danger of losing their own unique approach to playing acoustic blues guitar.
Fingerstyle Blues Guitar Blind Boy Fuller Style
One important characteristic of ragtime blues picking is the alternating bass thumb pattern, which became to be known as Travis Picking. The tab below uses C, which Fuller uses for his progression of Keep On Truckin Mama chords and also Truckin’ Little Baby Chords.
In this pattern the thumb moves from one bass string to another in a regular pattern. Sometimes three strings are used, as shown in the tab below for the Chord shape of C:
As you can see, the thumb picks the B string first, then the G, then the bass E before going back to G and sating the series all over again. In it’s basic form, this alternating bass fingerpicking pattern is maintained as long as is necessary while the melody is picked out on the treble strings. Travis picking can also be done with just two strings, it just depends on the chords of the song and the effect that the guitar player wants to create.
Playing ragtime blues guitar fingerstyle is a great challenge but really satisfying when you get it down. Truckin’ Little Baby is typical of this Piedmont guitar style done so well by Fuller, one of the South Carolina blues men. His second guitar was often Floyd Council, who had pretty much the same style. Fuller was taught a lot by Reverend Gary Davis and his influence shows in any of the riffs used in this song.
Video – Trucking Little Baby Guitar Lesson:
While some players, such as Blind Blake, took this basic alternating bass technique further and added even more syncopation, Fuller tended to work within the basic fingerstyle bass pattern with a couple of interesting variations in style most probably learned from Reverend Davis himself, who was the absolute master of any style. Davis wore a thumb pick and a steel pick on his forefinger, while we can’t really see exactly what picks Fuller wore, if any. It seems that he definitely sported a thumb pick, and maybe his finger was bare, we don’t really know.
Fuller used several of the Reverend’s ragtime guitar based riffs and licks to great advantage and a couple of these moves became his signature sound. It was his habit to pick a National Steel guitar, which was a naturally amplified guitar employing aluminium cones, just like the cone in a modern loudspeaker, to amplify the acoustic of the sound-box two to three times. This was very necessary when the blues men played on the street or at noisy parties, to cut through traffic or crowd noise. Before the electric guitar was invented, this was the only way to get the music out there in noisy environments.
Reverend Davis and Blind Boy Fuller did play on the streets together, together with Bull City Red, real name George Washington, and the three men also recorded together one time. Blind Boy Fuller was actually just Thirty Three when he passed away, however in the course of his brief but productive recording career he turned into one of the most prominent and very successful bluesmen for the pre-War time period.
Influenced by the famous blues and Gospel guitar player Reverend Gary Davis, Fuller cultivated a ragtime biased fingerstyle acoustic guitar approach common amidst Carolina bluesmen, that perfectly matched his rough and emphatic vocalization. Equipped with his stainless steel National resonator six string guitar, Fuller offered a substantial arsenal of pieces extending from ragtime, jazz and conventional blues to religious and various other well-known compositions of the period.
Born and named Fulton Allen in countryside Northern Carolina on 10 July 1907, he was just one of 10 kids and got a truly shabby and challenging childhood. When a kid learning how to fingerpick the acoustic guitar, the man was impressed by the district’s abundant and assorted music heritages, and at some point began pursuing his line of work on the street and various other stamping grounds in which the African-Americans in the region congregated.
The way of life of the street musician was simply forced on him when at the time of his mid-teens he commenced to have trouble with his sight and using the acoustic guitar and singing songs emerged as the only manner in which he could possibly produce a proper livelihood. While performing and picking near a tobacco storage facility throughout the winter months of 1934-1935, Fuller was contacted by the white businessman and record producer J.B. Long, who requested him to go and play for him over at the community retail store.
This ended up the opportunity he was looking for, since it was Long who scheduled Fuller to go to New York Area to cut a record in 1935 with the American Record Corporation (ARC), together with his associate guitar guru Gary Davis and the blonde washboard expert recognized by the nickname of Bull City Red. Blind Boy Fuller cut a dozen songs, and the released records marketed extremely well, building him as an unique music sound, taking over the Carolina blues culture yet making it happen in his own style.
Here’s a list of Fuller’s 20 most popular recordings:
1. I Want Some Of Your Pie
2. Step It Up and Go
3. Somebody’s Been Playing With That Thing
4. I’m a Rattlesnakin’ Daddy
5. Looking for My Woman
6. Rag Mama Rag
7. Homesick and Lonesome Blues
8. My Brownskin Sugar Plum
9. Truckin’ My Blues Away
10. Homesick & Lonesome Blues
11. Jivin’ Woman Blues
12. Sweet Honey Hole
13. Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind
14. Walking My Troubles Away
15. Shake That Shimmy
16. Weeping Willow
17. Untrue Blues
18. Meat Shakin’ Woman
19. Heart Ease Blues
20. Precious Lord
Fuller moved forward to cut in excess of one hundred and twenty tracks for an assortment of record companies extending from his huge and successful syncopated ragtime song ‘Step It Up and Go’, and popular song standards ‘Get Your Yas Out’ and ‘Truckin’ My Blues Away’, to stirring blues pieces similar to ‘Lost Lover Blues’, each one of which are provided on his albums.
A few may well assert that Fuller really did not own the musical panache of the sort Blind Blake, Willie Walker or Gary Davis; having said that, the melodious fusion of his voice and acoustic guitar present a totality that differentiates him against other recording blues men. Fuller’s popular music teems with integrity and employs his prior experience as a blind and disadvantaged Negro. Enduring the dog’s life connected with the bluesman (who in addition was incarcerated behind bars for firing a gun and hitting his better half in the lower-leg), Fuller’s sickness and sudden death in 1941 were frequently chalked up to too much alcohol consumption.
If individuals state that blues musicians in the nineteen thirties appeared very similar, these individuals fail to remember the music and songs of Blind Foy Fuller that is teeming with irony and passion. The distinct resonance of his National acoustic guitar helped express his very genuine and spirited guitar combinations, that were an influence to numerous guitar players since. In a very similar path to Robert Johnson in the Mississippi, Blind Boy Fuller had the capacity to combine the various assorted characteristics of the Piedmont area and deliver them in such a way that summarizes the heart and soul of Carolina blues.
More Fingerstyle Magic From Blind By Fuller
One of his trademark licks obviously came from Reverend Gary Davis, who also picked with just his thumb and forefinger and is a technique held in common with many master blues guitar players, Big Bill Broonzy and Lightnin’ Hopkins among others. As these guitarists had only one finger to use on the treble strings, it generally moved very quickly. However, one finger simply couldn’t produce the fast triplet effect of a two finger picker such as Blind Blake or Mississippi John Hurt.
To try and compensate for this fact, such players used their thumb very actively on the treble strings, and used in the right way it produced a highly syncopated sound. It can be described as a kind of cross-over picking style, as the thumb crosses over from the bass strings to the trebles. In some cases, it actually pick strings on the opposite side to the forefinger, so great accuracy is required. Like many ragtime guitar players, Fuller mostly applied this technique to particular chord progressions in the keys of C and G.
The guitar tablature below shows how Fuller approaches this common ragtime blues chord progression using alternating strokes of his thumb and forefinger- the chords are C, C7, F and Ab7:
Pay careful attention to the thumb strokes and note that it moves right over to treble B strings and moves in a completely different way yo the standard alternating bass pattern associated with ragtime fingerstyle and also Travis picking.
Fuller might sing a line or two using a sparse melody line and standard bass pattern, and the break away at will to create single string runs or add syncopation using his cross-over picking technique shown above. Check out the video below to hear and see how it’s done in both keys of C and then G:
And here’s the guitar tab for the key of G – the chord sequence is G, G7, C and Eb7:
Naturally, different bass strings are used when playing in different chord shapes and really it’s up to the guitarist to work out what fits, but suffice to say that this kind of technique makes use of the relatively complex chords and doesn’t work that well with E and A for example, although it can be done with a little modification to the technique – play with it and see what you come up with!