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The King Of Ragtime Blues Guitar

Blind Arthur Blake's birth date was recorded as 1893 in Jacksonville, Florida and records also show that he died in 1933, but none of this is sure. He was a very successful  ragtime blues guitar player and performer. He was aptly named The King of Ragtime Guitar, due to his almost supernatural technique. He recorded in excess of 80 sides with Paramount from 1926 to 1932.

He became an expert guitarist in Piedmont style guitar finger picking and he had quite a wide range of songs and party pieces. Blake is probably best known because of his complex, rhythmic playing technique which resembled ragtime music played on the piano. We don't really know much about Blake. His place of birth is noted as Jacksonville, in Florida  but it's by no means certain.

During one song he drops into a Geechee way of speaking, which historians believe could indicate that he came from a region by the coast in the state of Georgia. Nothing at all is recorded about his death and there is no definitive proof of his real name given at birth. It's been suggested that his name may have been Arthur Phelps, but there is no real proof of this.


Video - Play Ragtime Blues Guitar
That'll Never Happen No More - Blind Blake
Video - Play Ragtime Blues Guitar
That'll Never Happen No More - Blind Blake
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The last name "Phelps" possibly came about when he responded to Blind Willie McTell during a chat in 1925 in Atlanta, but Blake was never noted to have frequented that state; nor did Blind Willie ever visit Chicago. It’s known that several of Blake's songs  copyright with the name 'Arthur Blake', and when he recorded with Papa Charlie Jackson, "Papa Charlie and Blind Blake Talk About It", these words can be easily heard:


Papa Charlie: What's your right name?
Arthur Blake: My right name is Arthur Blake!

He began recording the first time in 1926 and his songs were very popular. His first track was "Early Morning Blues" and "West Coast Blues" was on the flip side of the disk. They are wonderful examples of Blake's magic and presented the corner stones of the new ragtime blues guitar style, which became known as "Piedmont".

That Amazing Guitar Finger Picking  Technique

It's not known if Blake was taught by a previous master, or how he formed his idiosyncratic playing style. Of course, many guitar players had a complex and rhythmic guitar technique, but not many were so accurate and quick as Blake.

In his musical presentations, regardless of the key, the formations he used were often strikingly simple. His left hand fretting fingers were good at damping the bass string sound and that movement is vita when finger picking rapidly. It seems to me his picking hand (the right) was the most important, but of course both hands coordinate to make that wonderful sound.

His finger picking patterns could be separated into these parts – rolling thumb strikes, rapid finger triplets and single string runs picked with alternating thumb and finger. It’s true that other players had these techniques, but Blake used these techniques continuously throughout his songs, forming complicated and syncopated combinations.

His thumb action in  should be a particular subject of  students starting to learn how to play blues guitar in the ragtime blues style. Many guitar players know the picking pattern called ‘alternating bass’. However, Blake would roll his thumb between two bass strings, forming two beats instead of one! Also, he could change the picking pattern and reverse it in mid flow, which exemplifies Blake's incredible dexterity.

 

Video - Play Ragtime Blues Guitar
Southern Rag - Blind Blake

Blake Went Out As He Came In - Shrouded in Mystery

Blake's last songs were recorded in 1932,  and the financial failure of Paramount Records accelerated an already ending career.
By all accounts, he took to drinking too much towards his final years. Possibly this was a contributory factor to his early death when he was just forty. Here again, we don't know exactly when or how he met his end – Gary Davis related that Blake was knocked down a street car in Chicago, and died as a result.

 

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