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by Jason Gubbels

July 5, 2013

Piedmont Blues 101

by Jason Gubbels  |  July 5, 2013

Ask blues scholars about their favorite artists and you'll start hearing names like Blind Willie McTell, Pink Anderson and Barbecue Bob, none of whom are from the supposed blues cradles of the Mississsippi Delta or urban Chicago. But the early 20th century practitioners of what became referred to as Piedmont blues represent one of the most delightful iterations of the style.

Strictly speaking, the Piedmont plateau ranges from northern Virginia through southern Georgia, rolling along south and east of the Appalachian Mountains. In blues terms, it refers more generally to performers hailing from Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, and environs. Specifically, it denotes a rural style of blues obviously beholden to ragtime's syncopations and the string band/songster traditions of the late 19th century. And while piano and harmonica make regular appearances in the Piedmont repertoire, the focus tends to be on solo acoustic guitar, usually delicately fingerpicked.

This playlist offers a roughly chronological tour of the Piedmont blues style, starting in the late 1920s, ranging through the blues revival of the '60s, and touching briefly on some recent practitioners, many of them fans who learned at the feet of the original masters. There are detours -- although the legendary Mississippi John Hurt hailed from points farther west and south (as his name suggests), his peerless rolling fingerstyle exemplifies Piedmont rhythms. And watch for any number of songs that gained later fame via rock artists (Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" was electrified by the Allman Brothers; Eric Clapton recorded a nearly note-for-note rendition of Barbecue Bob's "Motherless Child"). Mostly, though, just enjoy some of the greatest guitar pickers ever to play the blues.

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