Ragtime Blues Guitar – The Basics. Out of all the blues guitar genres in the broad category ‘guitar’ ragtime, or Piedmont, is perhaps the most challenging both to learn but also to perform confidently. Modern Travis finger-picking styles owe everything to the early blues men who tried to copy the syncopated sounds of the piano popular piano rags (Scott Joplin) and make the same appealing sound on just six guitar strings! It was a good trick, making similar music on six strings from arrangements written for eighty eight piano keys. To understand how this was done, we need to go back a little to the times of early Mississippi Delta Blues in the Southern States after the end of slavery.
Stella Harmony Guitars – A Big Factor In Spreading Ragtime Blues Guitar
In those days, mass produced guitars were just appearing c/o Sears Company and cheap instruments could be bought for $1. Before that, they were often home made and not great quality, although it’s testimony to the need for everyone to make music. It was common to create a drumming beat on the bass strings while playing a melody on the trebles, until one young man realized that the complex piano sounds could be simulated by alternating the picking thumb between two or more of the bass strings. All at once, the possibilities for making dance music and happy type ‘blues’ songs just opened up and a new style of playing was born.
Although the style sometimes called ‘Piedmont’, which is a plateau region between between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the main Appalachian Mountains, guitarists from most states began playing this form in one way or another. There were even men from the Mississippi Delta playing the alternating bass pattern in the ragtime blues guitar style, Mississippi John Hurt, for example. Other regions, like South Carolina, produced a whole group of legendary players – BB Fuller, Gary Davis, Willie Walker, Floyd Council and Pink Anderson to name just a few. The King Of Ragtime, Blind Blake, came from Florida and settled in the Chicago area at about the same time as Big Bill Broonzy was swinging the blues up there, so it truly was an American-wide phenomenon.
Some Of The Best Ragtime Blues Guitar Players
It’s pretty incredible that many of the great players just used one finger, guitarists such as Scott Joplin, Doc Watson, Floyd Council and many others. Although Broonzy didn’t play what we call ‘ragtime blues guitar’, he did show an amazing ability to create syncopation without alternating his bass strings, but he was quite an exception. Merle Travis built on the old ragtime styles he heard as a kid and produced some classic pieces, and guess what – he used just one finger.
Maybe one the most famous one finger guitarists was Reverend Gary Davis, who was truly an expert on any style of guitar picking. Of course, he could play ragtime and also Delta style blues, but in his later years he preferred to sing his Gospel songs to the passer-by in Harlem where he lived. The video below is a lesson for Doc Watson’s ‘Deep River Blues’, which is a masterpiece in Alternating bass Travis style guitar picking.
The Rest Of The Best Piedmont Style Guitarists
Apart from the huge names that we all know, like Blind Boy Fuller (who was taught by Gary Davis) there’s a plethora of so-called ‘minor’ blues guitar players who could play formidable ragtime guitar. Floyd Council recorded just six sides in his own name, but played second guitar to Fuller, so you can rest assured he was very competent. His ragtime style wasn’t delicate buy was very syncopated, with heavy accenting and slow phrasing interspersed with single string runs. I never heard him play particularly fast songs, but that’s part of his charm and mastery – he didn’t need to play fast to syncopate that thing.
Anther superb player that was ‘re-discovered’ in the sixties was Pink(ney) Anderson. He took to the road at an early age playing with another guitarist (Dooley) in medicine shows up and down the country. The songs were mostly playful ragtime pieces and the repertoire was full of songs popular at the time, just to please the rural audiences that gathered round as they traveled from town to town. One of his songs in the video gallery below, CC&O Blues, is played in dropped D tuning, which is unusual.