Personalities | Blind Blake | Twenties | Jazz & Blues
(Vocals, guitar, c. early 1890s–c. 1933)
Among the most influential instrumentalists in the blues, Blind Blake remains a mystery man in terms of his personal life. Born either Arthur Blake or Arthur Phelps, probably in Florida (Jacksonville or Tampa), he purveyed a ragtime-influenced, polyrhythmic picking technique that combined jaw-dropping technical virtuosity with an impeccably crafted symmetry. He approached his fretboard like a piano or even an entire orchestra, balancing themes, tonal attack, inflections and cadences, yet never losing either his improvisational flair or his seemingly limitless capacity for speed.
He recorded about 80 sides for Paramount (some with jazz clarinetist Johnny Dodds); after the label folded in 1932 he disappeared from sight. He is generally thought to have died about a year later. Generations of guitarists, from Rev. Gary Davis on down, owe much of their inspiration and their art to his genius.
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