3
Unplugged: Blues Guitarists and the
Myth of Acousticity 1
Peter Narvdez

On a summer's day in 1992, a blues musician friend of mine, who had been playing at clubs in and around St John's, Newfoundland for twenty years, was eating lunch in his kitchen when his teenage daughter excitedly raced in with a friend and exclaimed, ‘Dad you've got to hear this - it's cool!’ She thrust Eric Clapton's new CD Unplugged into his hand. Examining it with some interest, my friend immediately realized that the hot item thrilling his daughter and her friends was an album of acoustic blues, many of which were old chestnuts (Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, Alberta, Walking Blues) from the blues canon.

‘It looks good’, he replied jadedly, ‘I've been playing several of those songs at my solo acoustic gigs for years.’ ‘You have?!’ she exclaimed with disbelief and no small degree of dismay.

A major point arises from the foregoing anecdote - while acoustic blues in North America has experienced noticeable surges of popularity from time to time (for example, the fad for W.C. Handy's published piano blues arrangements 191215; the recording of vaudeville and downhome African-American blues artists from the 1920s into the 1940s; the‘rediscovery’ of early African-American blues recording artists and the jugband craze in the 1960s; commencing in 1971, Bonnie Raitt's acoustic blues recordings; the hit two-CD set re-issue of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings [Sony Music] in 1990; Eric Clapton's Unplugged [WEA/ Warner Brothers] 1992; and the growing popularity of African-American acoustic blues artists Guy Davis, Keb Mo’, and Corey Harris in the 1990s), it has been continually played by local and regional artists for most of the twentieth century.

Different groups have exhibited diverse reasons for supporting this music, however, and many of these varying attitudes and ideas have focused on the guitar as the primary medium of the form. This chapter will compare views of the guitar from the standpoints of: African-American acoustic blues performers from the southern US; blues revivalists of the late 1950s and 1960s; and a sample of Canadian blues performers today. It will be shown that the first stance was pragmatic, the second embraced‘country blues’ and the cultural‘myth of acousticity’, an idea cluster that mixed authenticity with ideology, and the third

-27-

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Guitar Cultures
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Notes on Contributors ix
  • 1 - Introduction: Guitars, Cultures, People and Places 1
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • 2 - The Guitar in the Blues Music of the Deep South 11
  • Notes 25
  • References *
  • 3 - Unplugged: Blues Guitarists and the Myth of Acousticity 27
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • 4 - ‘plug in and Play!’ Uk‘indie-Guitar’ Culture 45
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • 5 - Handmade in Spain: the Culture of Guitar Making 63
  • Notes 82
  • References *
  • 6 - The Guitar as Artifact and Icon: Identity Formation in the Babyboom Generation 89
  • Notes 113
  • References *
  • 7 - Into the Arena: Edward Van Halen and the Cultural Contradictions of the Guitar Hero 117
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • 7 - The Guitar Cultures of Papua New Guinea: Regional, Social and Stylistic Diversity 135
  • Notes 154
  • References *
  • 9 - Hybridity and Segragation in the Guitar Cultures of Brazil 157
  • Notes 174
  • References *
  • 10 - Rock to Raga: the Many Lives of the Indian Guitar 179
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Index 209
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