Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blind Blake

No blues artist remains so cloaked in mystery as Blind Blake. Likely born in the early 1890's, Arthur Blake was from Jacksonville, Florida. However, a Paramount record ad in the Chicago Defender said he was from Tampa, and some researchers have speculated that Blake may have been from, or spent considerable time in, the South Georgia Sea Islands. Even his name is an uncertainty: his name might have been Arthur Phelps, though the copyright submissions for his songs use some variation on Blind Arthur Blake. Blake travelled widely before and after his first record was made. He spent a good amount of time in Atlanta in the early '20s. Kate McTell said that her husband, Blind Willie McTell, brought Blake to the city from Florida.

What we do have is one Paramount publicity photo, a few scattered recollections, and his songs. The eighty or so sides that Blake cut are incredible in their diversity. They range from out-and-out Piedmont blues to dazzling instrumentals to ragtime to duets with Gus Cannon to skiffle-jazz.

Blake shared some interesting similarities to his more famous labelmates, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Patton. Each was the first star of his respective blues genre, at least when we look back now; each was recorded extensively by Paramount at a time when few bluesmen were asked to record more than ten songs; each died in the thirties, Jefferson and Blake under mysterious circumstances; each had his picture taken once; and all three had more than a little songster in him, Blake especially so. MP3: Diddie Wa Diddie


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