Ramsey Library Special Collections

East Coast Piedmont Blues

by UNC Asheville students enrolled in the Liberal Studies Introductory Colloquia, "The Art of the Blues" (Fall 2005) and "Jazz and Blues in American Culture" (Fall 2003) | Project Advisor: Bryan Sinclair
 


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Piedmont Blues Map
Original map from USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1923.


Introduction


Influenced by ragtime, country string bands, traveling medicine shows, and popular song of the early 20th century, East Coast Piedmont Blues blended both black and white, rural and urban song elements in the diverse urban centers of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic region. In contrast, the Delta blues style of rural Mississippi is believed to have less of a white influence, as it was produced in a region with a higher concentration of African Americans.

Although it drew from diverse elements of the region, East Coast Piedmont Blues is decidedly an African American art form. The Piedmont blues style may even reflect an earlier musical tradition than the blues that emerged from the Mississippi Delta. According to Samuel Charters, the alternating-thumb bass pattern and “finger-picking style” of Piedmont blues guitar is reminiscent of West African kora playing and earlier banjo styles, also of African origin (Sweet as the Showers of Rain, Oak Publications, 1977, p. 137).

The Geography of Piedmont Blues

This style was principally found in the region between the Appalachian Mountains to the west and coastal plain to the east, stretching south to north from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. Most Piedmont bluesmen were associated with Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Bruce Bastin, probably the leading expert on Piedmont blues, has written that large numbers of migrating African Americans settled in the urban centers of the mid-Atlantic region during the 1910s and 1920s, principally on the main roads and railroad lines connecting the South to the Northeast. The Appalachian Mountains provided a physical barrier to a more westward expansion, and migration was generally rural to urban up the Eastern Seaboard. As a result, the urban centers along the way -- Atlanta, GA, Greenville and Spartanburg, SC Durham, NC, Richmond, VA -- became fertile areas for black musicians to both perform and influence each other. (For more information, see Bruce Bastin, Red River Blues, U of Illinois P, 1986.) See a complete list of East Coast Piedmont Blues Musicians by state.

When did Piedmont blues musicians record?

The heyday of the Piedmont blues sound was the 1920s and 30s, during the earliest days of commercial recording. 78 rpm records of African American musicians from this period -- often marketed as "race records" -- are highly collectable today. Document Records in Scotland and Yazoo Records out of Newton, NJ, are two companies that have done an excellent job in preserving many of these rare recordings on compact disc.

What distinguishes the Piedmont blues sound from, say, Delta blues or Texas blues (generally speaking)?

Generally speaking, the Piedmont blues sound incorporated ragtime piano rhythms and chord changes in guitar playing. The left hand piano rhythm is reproduced with the thumb and the right hand piano melody with the forefingers. This is often called "finger-picking style." This type of playing has been described by some critics as being more "melodic" than other blues, with an alternating thumb bass pattern supporting the melody on treble strings.


Sources


Bastin, Bruce. Crying for the Carolines. London: Studio Vista, 1971.

Bastin, Bruce. Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition of the Southeast. University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Bastin, Bruce. "Truckin' My Blues Away: East Coast Piedmont Styles." Nothing But the Blues: The Music and the Musicians. Ed. Lawrence Cohn. New York: Abbeville Press, 1993.

Charters, Samuel Barclay. The Country Blues. Da Capo Press, 1975.

Charters, Samuel Barclay. Sweet as the Showers of Rain. Oak Publications, 1977. Contained in the reprint The Blues Makers. New York: Da Capo Press, 1991.

Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1979.

Hart, Mary L., Brenda M. Eagles, and Lisa N. Howorth. The Blues: A Bibliographical Guide. Intro. by William Ferris. New York: Garland, 1989.

Napier, Simon. "Blind Boy Fuller On Down." Blues Unlimited 38 (November 1966): 17; 39 (December 1966): 19; 40 (January 1967): 19; 41 (February 1967): 19.

Oliver, Paul. The Story of the Blues. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1969.

Pearson, Barry Lee. Virginia Piedmont Blues: The Lives and Art of Two Virginia Bluesmen. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

Titon, Jeff Todd. Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis, 2nd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Discographies

All Music Guide to the Blues, 3rd ed. Ed. by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine. San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2003. <http://www.allmusic.com>

Dixon, Robert M. W., John Godrich, and Howard Rye, comps. Blues & Gospel Records, 1890-1943, 4th ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Leadbitter, Mike, and Neil Slaven. Blues Records: 1943-1966. New York: Oak Publications, 1968.

Lornell, Kip. Virginia's Blues, Country, & Gospel Records 1902-1943: An Annotated Discography. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, c1989

Oliver, Paul, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Blues Records. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Reference, 1989.

Web Links

T-Bone's Piedmont Blues Page. Accessed 8 December 2003. <http://www.io.com/~tbone1/blues/ECblz/>

Center for Southern African American Music. University of South Carolina School of Music. Accessed 8 December 2003. <http://www.sc.edu/library/music/csam/index.html>

"Putting Blues on the Map." North Carolina Blues Historical Marker Project. Accessed 15 December 2003. <http://members.aol.com/Trucknlittlemama/bbfhmpx.html>

Piedmont Blues. UNC-TV site for program Piedmont Blues: North Carolina Style. Accessed 8 December 2003. <http://www.unctv.org/piedmontblues/>



Comments and suggestions are welcomed. This site is for educational purposes, created by students. Please contact me if the inclusion of any material on this site is in violation of copyright.

Bryan Sinclair, Project Advisor
sinclair.bryan at gmail dot com

 

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