Thursday, July 16, 2009


Anybody who survived the late '60s, early 70's is familiar with the work of famed underground comix artist R. Crumb. Crumb is the creator of Mr. Natural, of course, keep On Truckin', and a whole slew of insane underground comics with titles like Zap Comix, Snatch Comics, Bijou Funnies, Fritz the Cat, etcetera.

An icon himself, in the early 80's Crumb created the Heroes of the Blues drawings of 36 prewar country blues artists, dedicated to the pioneers of this uniquely American style of music. Mr. Crumb's work is presented here only to promote awareness of country blues.

A barber by trade, William Moore was born in Georgia around 1894 and spent most of his life in Tappahannac, Va. His 8 extant sides, recorded at a single Paramount session in 1928, stamp him as one of the few instrumentally-oriented performers of the era. Moore's music may echo the happy-go-lucky "ragtime" dances popular before the heyday of blues. He died in 1955.

A native of Eatonton, Ga., Joshua Barnes (Peg Leg) Howell taught himself guitar around 1909 at age 21. He later worked in Atlanta as a street singer. One of the first recorded country bluesmen, Howell produced 28 sides, many with string band accompaniment, between 1926-1929. Like many street singers he had a diverse repertoire that included both blues and "rag" songs. He died in 1966.

Born in Louisville in 1901, Gibson cut his musical teeth in St. Louis. He recorded 24 sides for two different labels between 1929-1931. One of the first city performers whose playing had no pronounced rural influences, Gibson took the single-string, vibrato-laden approach of Lonnie Johnson, but placed more emphasis on improvisation. He died in 1963.

Jacksonville's Arthur Blake ranks among the most accomplished "rag" and blues guitarists of all time. In the 1920s he based his career in Chicago. Between 1926-1932 he recorded nearly 80 sides for Paramount, afterwards to fade into obscurity. Unlike most blind performers he played dance-oriented music. His polished technique and effortless-sounding improvisations attracted many imitators, but admitted no equals.

A long-time rock & blues afficionado, I'd always heard about the African origins of blues, soul, and rock music. When I arrived in West Africa and heard that music for myself I really appreciated the connection - I could hear strains of Led Zeppelin echoing around, where it came from - S.L.

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