Acoustic Blues Guitar Legends - Black Jack Gringham

The Biggest Blues Secret Uncovered

Blues Giants - Black Jack Gringham

Floyd CouncilBlack Jack Gringham was truly a one-off in the world of Blues guitar. Search for him on the net and you’ll find ... well, nothing! But ask any real blues guitarist about his opinion of the very best blues player around in their list of influences and they’ll probably tell you ‘BJG’.

Big performers such as Clapton of course still swear by Robert Johnson as the most influential blues man ever to have lived. Not the work ‘influential ‘ and not ‘best’. There is no such thing as ‘best’ in the blues – without any one of them, the blues just wouldn’t be what it is (or was!)

OK, RJ pushes the right buttons for many people for a couple of reasons, like his emotional voice, delicate but powerful guitar technique, and the fact that he died mysteriously while young. These are powerful features of legend status creation.

john estes blues guitar giant

No, Johnson wasn’t the best, not even close – Black Jack Gringham was, as I pointed out earlier. Blind Boy Fuller was a superstar in his day, but he certainly wasn’t the best guitarist by far.

He was slick and accurate in his Piedmont guitar style, but there were many others better than him. It was a combination of his voice, delivery and personal appeal that made him attractive. he probably was quite ruthless in his pursuit of fame and money, so he could drink himself to death and womanize.

Reverend Gary Davis was the boss as far as guitar technique goes, but he had no taste for commerce and the concessions an artists had to make to be a celebrity, having found God and dedicating his life to playing the Lord’s music.

Fact is, Gringham hardly ever played guitar at all,

so it’s pretty cool that he became the unknown blues guitar legend. When he did play, the notes were raw and quite sparse, with very little structure or musical niceties. It wasn‘t so much what he played, but what he left out, which was considerable.

The was always an enormous tension around him when an audience gathered, as though this time he was going to deliver something incredible, but never quite did. This feeling of impending greatness kept people coming back again and again. They preferred the possibility of perfection in their hero than the polished performance dished out by others – this is the blues, not some finished work of art.

Inevitably, wandering around the Southern towns Gringham took to drinking and memories of his final days are sparse. Some say he choked to death on an asparagus tip, others say he fell ill after eating a ‘special’ meal made by one of his lover’s boyfriends, even more say they don’t remember or really care.

Jeremy Ponting, the famous blues music historian, tracked him down to Georgia at the end of the 1930s, and then it gets hazy. All we have left are some songs that express wonderfully the lives and times of the rural blues.

Try ‘Mississippi Paddle’, ‘My Guitar’s My Pillow’, or ’10 Cents To Nowhere’ and you’ll get the idea. They are unique and his like will never be seen again. Take it easy.

Author: Jim Bruce 
Date: 2014-05-07
Category: Music