Piedmont Blues: Introduction
Episode date - May 27, 2016
To be completely honest about this, I was unaware that a genre called ‘Piedmont Blues’ even existed until I was nearly forty years old.
Most blues scholars seemed to be most interested in following the blues back to their basic roots, which usually led to the Mississippi Delta. If, like me, you had only a cursory understanding of the music’s deep history, you might have come to believe that the Delta was the primary source for the development of the Blues. Instead, the truth is that Blues were spread like a diaspora, most likely originating in Northern Africa, and then taking on any number of forms, depending on where the ‘carriers’ found themselves. The Mississippi Delta was dirt poor and simple, so the music reflected that. Blues scholars loved that, also, because it offered them a clean storyline for presenting a birth story, but the truth is much, much more complicated.
W.C. Handy was writing formal music pieces based on the blues before Charlie Patton or Son House ever recorded a lick. New Orleans Jazz was built on the bones of the blues, and Bessie Smith traveled the country as America’s most popular blues vocalist – all this before the delta artists got around to recording. Meanwhile, African Americans who lived America’s eastern seaboard also incorporated the Blues into their lifestyle, but in their case, the Blues was about integration, mixing it in with other popular music styles that were popular in the more densely populated towns and cities of Virginia and the Carolinas. The difference in style was mostly due to geography. By definition, those who lived in the Appalachian Mountains lived apart from the city and usually felt suspicion to newcomers and city dwellers. This fact more or less contained the Black population to the East, where the population was higher, cultures mixed much more easily, and a variety of music styles were heard with regularity. From this blend, the Blues of the Piedmont took on a style all its own, and today, I think that it can be proven that this branch of the blues is at least as influential and lasting as the Blues that emanated from the Mississippi Delta.
Here are a few songs to prove the point, mostly from artists now seen as originators of the Piedmont style;
1) West Coast Blues – Blind Blake
2) Blind Arthur’s Breakdown – Blind Blake
3) Police Dog Blues – Blind Blake
4)Rumblin and Ramblin Boa Constrictor Blues – Blind Blake
5) Diddy Wah Diddy – Blind Blake
6) Got Heaven in My View – Louis Washington
7) Longest Train I Ever Saw – Jessie Wadley with John Wedley
8) Prison Blues – Robert Higgins
9) When I Lie Down Last Night – Blind Joe
10) Join the Band – John Davis and the Georgia Sea Island Singers
11) Rag Mama Rag – Blind Boy Fuller