The Guitar in the Blues Music of the
Deep South 1
The topic that I have chosen is a vast one, and I will merely outline its dimensions here, trying to set a framework for the further research that will be needed to fill in the details. My approach will be to note the socioeconomic, historical, and musical factors that surrounded, affected, and precipitated the introduction of the guitar to the folk music tradition of the Deep South. Following this, I will briefly discuss characteristics of the indigenous African-American folk music tradition that the guitar encountered. Finally, I will make some general observations on the resultant blues-centred folk guitar tradition that developed there.
I view the Deep South as a region with a large black population and an economy dominated by cotton, timber, and other extractive industries. White and black folk music traditions of the nineteenth century in this region relied on the fiddle and banjo as primary musical instruments. The guitar arrived as a new instrument at the end of the nineteenth century in association with the new musical genres of ragtime, jazz, and blues, with an emerging cash economy, and with new attitudes in the black community toward social and economic survival adopted in response to an increase of racial oppression. These attitudes incorporated a growing spirit of individualism and self-reliance. The guitar reached the rural Deep South through the American genteel parlour guitar tradition of the nineteenth century and through Italian, Spanish, Mexican, and Caribbean traditions introduced through immigration, America's military encounters, and travel by southern blacks in search of work. Ragtime, as the first of the new genres to become popularized, also influenced the more slowly emerging blues guitar tradition, as did the music of string bands and performance styles associated with the mandolin and piano. The blues tradition that absorbed the guitar and these outside musical and cultural influences was firmly based in a pre-existing African-American musical culture with many stylistic characteristics, structural elements, and musical instruments stemming ultimately from the African musical and cultural background of southern blacks. The encounter of the introduced elements and the indigenous tradition resulted in a musical and cultural clash, ultimately becoming a synthesis in the form of blues music and blues culture, which grew and developed over the twentieth century. The early