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How To Play Ragtime Blues Guitar - Blind Blake

Updated on July 15, 2016

Arthur Blake - Ragtime Guitar King

Blind Blake - Mystery Man

Blind Arthur Blake, born eighteen ninety three in Jacksonville, Florida and passed away in 1933, was a well known blues artist and guitarist. He was called "The King of Ragtime Guitar". Blake put out about eighty songs for Paramount Records between 1926 to 1932. He was a very accomplished ragtime blues guitar player in the Piedmont style with a surprisingly diverse repertoire.

Playing Blues Guitar With Natural Flair

He’s well remembered for his syncopated playing sound that sounded like ragtime piano, but a lot is known about the man. The birth place is written as Jacksonville, Florida by Paramount Records but that is not definite. On one piece he lapses into a Geechee dialect, which might indicate that he originated from the coastal region of Georgia. Nothing is recorded of the events surrounding his death and no one is even sure of Blake’s right name.

By some sources, his proper name could have been Arthur Phelps, although there is no hard evidence of the fact. One thing for sure, several generations have been trying to learn how to play ragtime guitar in exactly the same way ever since!

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What Was Blake's Real Name - (Surely not 'King Of Ragtime Blues Guitar!)

The "Phelps" name probably was created after he replied to blues legend Blind Willie McTell in a conversation in nineteen twenty five in Atlanta, a place where Blind Blake was never said to have visited, neither did Willie McTell ever reside in or in the region of Chicago. It’s a matter of record that many of Blake's blues records were put into copyright under the creator’s name 'Arthur Blake', and during his studio sessions with Papa Charlie Jackson, "Papa Charlie and Blind Blake Talk About It", the following words are clearly distinguished:

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

It’s a great shame that there is only one image existing - it's obviously a studio photo and shows Blake holding a small bodied Gibson guitar, which was perfect for finger picking fast ragtime blues guitar.

He entered the studio for the first time in 1926 and his songs sold really well. Blake’s first blues record was "Early Morning Blues" and "West Coast Blues" was on the other side. These are great examples of his artistry and formed the foundations of the new Piedmont blues guitar style.


Blind Blake's Incredible Finger Picking Guitar Technique

Nobody knows if Blind Blake had a guitar teacher, or how he learned how to play ragtime guitar in that unique way. It’s true that several guitar players had a syncopated way of playing, but very few were as precise and as rapid as he was.

Everywhere in his music, never mind of the key used, the chord formations used were really quite simple but his magic was in his right hand technique. The fretting fingers were very efficient at damping the strings and this technique is essential for rapid finger picking guitar. It strikes me that his right hand was the most critical one, although obviously both combine to create the music.

His finger picking technique may be split up into these components – thumb technique, fast finger triplets and runs on a single string. It’s a fact that other ragtime blues guitar players had these skills, but Blind Blake combined the techniques continuously, making very complicated and rhythmic sounds.

His thumb in particular needs special investigation for students who want to learn how to play blues guitar in this style. Guitarists are familiar with the picking pattern called ‘alternating bass’. However, Blake could brush the thumb from one string to the next, creating two beats in place of just one! Blake might in addition reverse the picking pattern in mid flow, which shows impressive control. Learning how to play in thisstyle is an art in itself.

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Blake Ended As He Began - In Mystery

Blake went into the studio to record one of his blues songs for the last time during nineteen thirty two, the bankruptcy of Paramount Records speeding up his career end. Fans often consider that Blake’s later tracks don't display quite the same feel.

By all accounts, Blake drank a lot during his final years. Maybe this led to an early death when he was 40 years of age. It's not known if he retained his earlier finger picking dexterity in later years or not. No one is sure how he came to his end – Reverend Gary Davis was told that Blake was hit and killed by a streetcar in Chicago.

It's Free! Go On, Force Yourself - Leave Me A Comment

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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi Great hub I enjoyed it but I like all guitar music. I do not play much blues but I'll stop by and check out the lesson #2.

    • profile image

      Peer 

      6 years ago

      It appears that BlindBlake died of pulmonary tuberculosis in Milwaukee, age 38. even his death certificate was found. You can find it here: http://www.bluesandrhythm.co.uk/documents/BR263-Bl...

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