EARLY BLUES: The First Stars of Blues Guitar

By Schwartz, Roberta Freund | American Studies, April 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

EARLY BLUES: The First Stars of Blues Guitar


Schwartz, Roberta Freund, American Studies


EARLY BLUES: The First Stars of Blues Guitar. By Jas Obrecht. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2015.

Since the late 1970s, Jas Obrecht has supplied sharp and insightful commentary on guitarists and popular music to a variety of publications, particularly Guitar Player, where he served as staff editor for two decades. However, his most insightful and prolific writing has been on the blues, and he is one of the most respected writers on the genre. His two previous monographs, Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made the Music (1990) and Rollin ' and Tumblin': The Postwar Blues Guitarists (2000), focus largely on the giants of the urban blues, such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and B. B. King, though include profiles of earlier, important figures from the previous era, such as Robert Johnson.

In Early Blues: The First Stars of the Blues Guitar, Obrecht turns his attention to nine often overlooked predecessors of the more familiar post-war generation. Much of this material has been available in some form as liner notes, biographical essays, journal articles, and blog posts for nearly a decade. In Early Blues, Obrecht not only makes them more readily accessible, but their presentation in a single collection also highlights the critical paradigm shift in the genre during the 1920s, as guitarists became the dominant figures in the blues.

Obrecht begins, appropriately, with Sylvester Weaver, the first blues guitarist on record. While the careers of most of the other figures overlap, they are presented in the order in which their influence was most keenly felt: Papa Charlie Jackson, the first commercially successful male blues artist; Blind Lemon Jefferson, whose national popularity launched the market for the country blues; Blind Blake, "the king of the ragtime guitar"; Blind Willie McTell, whose recordings highlight nearly every genre of roots music; the gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson, whose slide guitar skills are without peer; Lonnie Johnson, the most influential guitarist of the 1920s, who made both blues and jazz recordings; Mississippi John Hurt, whose fingerpicking style and folk repertoire influenced legions of blues revivalists in the 1960s; and Tampa Red, "the Guitar Wizard," the most prolific artist of the 78 rpm era and a crucial figure in the development of the post-war blues style. …

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