Pete's Blog

Scrapper Blackwell

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It's a commonplace of fingerpicking guitar, the neophyte hearing the style for the first time and thinkiing it's two guitarists. But a student of mine found a Scrapper Blackwell reissue in the library the other week and his solo pieces sounded that way to ME. It's an incredible technique not just for the cleanliness of the picking but for the widely differing touch used in the two voices. While his thumb (or a pick) strums the low strings the melodies are sharply picked - snapped, really - in the treble; and the chordal accompaniment is so full, and extends so far into the upper strings, that I sometimes literally cannot tell how he's doing it. It's been a long time since I've been stumped that badly by a guitarist. Even with Chet Atkins I can tell what he's doing even if I could never do it myself. With Scrapper Blackwell I just can't figure it out. Blackwell was born in North Carolina, mostly Cherokee (like Jimi Hendrix), and lived most of his life in Indianapolis. He did pretty well for himself in the 1930s as half of an immensely popular duo with the pianist and singer Leroy Carr. Carr drank himself to death pretty quickly but Blackwell lived into the 1950s, anyway, and never lost his chops. He said ALL the best guitarists came from Indianapolis.

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