Acoustic Blues Guitar Video Lesson Preview - West Coast Blues by Blind Blake.
Blind Arthur Blake wasn't known as the King Of Ragtime Guitar for nothingHis lightning fast accurate style was indeed formidable. he wasn't the only great ragtime guitarist around, but no one could perform quite like Blake. It's not sure where he got such a prodigious talent, or how he developed his techniques - of course, there has to be sole innate ability that we are born with, and after that, a lot of hard work is required!
Reverend Gary Davis, the master of blues, gospel and ragtime guitar, didn't give out complements lightly, but he said that Blake was 'a sportin' guitar player, yes sir'. This was a huge accolade from the best of them all. However, not even Davis could play it like Blake. He did play a version of West Coast Blues, but it was much slower and didn't have all the Blake tricks.
I have a feeling that Blake played with bare fingers rather than picks
One contemporary remarked that he had a hole in his thumb where it hit the strings - he must have played an awful lot. He w&as also a showman, sometimes playing the guitar behind his head, for example, or talking while performing a very difficult guitar instrumental.
Many blues guitar men used just one finger together with their thumb (Broonzy, Doc Watson, Lightnin' Hopkins) but Blake must have used at least two (maybe three?), because the triplets he plays on the treble strings just can't be done at that speed with just one finger.
I'm not sure if guitar players in those days used long finger nails or not, but I would suggest not. These guys played hard in bars and at parties - it wouldn't go down very well if you couldn't play due to a broken nail!West Coast Blues was Blake's first track and was typical of his work in the key of C. The B side was Early Mornin' Blues, which in it's turn was typical of Blake's work in the key of G. Early Mornin' is a slow piece and gives us a great opportunity to figure out Blake's approach to playing in G. WCB on the other hand is fast and furious - it seems as though every space is filled with a note. When I first heard the song on an old Biograph LP I was sure that there were two guitar playing due to the extreme syncopation I was hearing.
In fact he was show-casing his trademark technique of rolling his thumb across the bass strings. Adapting an ordinary alternating bass pattern on three strings, Blake would regularly slip his thumb from one bass string to the next, so producing two notes for one beat. The timing and accuracy must be impeccable for this to work and it's a real job of work to get it down. If you do manage to get it sounding anything like Blake's, it makes you laugh and it's just a joy to play.
The chord progression was basically the same for all of his songs in C - C, E7,A7,D7,G7and he introduced some variations using inversions and diminished chords up and down the fret board. As well as the bass thumb rolls, his finger style was complex and inventive. in fact, his first track he recorded WCB was a very tough act to follow. It couldn't be beat , but he recorded several variations on the theme (Southern Rag, Seaboard Stomp) and often played around with the timing to try and change the flavor a little.
The hardest thing about this piece is the sheer speed of it. The timing just never falters and he just doesn't miss a note! I'd love to know if he could play like that all the time, or if he had several tries in the studio. I suspect that he could always do it.For me, sometimes I can play it almost like Blake, and other days - well, it just doesn't work.
Start learning it very slowly, paying particular attention to those thumb rolls. Get them right before trying to speed it up. On thing is for sure - if you can't play it slow, you'll never play it fast. Saying that, you don't have to play it at his frenetic speed. If you get halfway there, it'll sound just great. I think I play it at about 80% most of the time. Any faster and there's a tendency to lose it. Try it out on a parlor sized guitar, as this gives the right light ragtime sound.