Saturday, January 2, 2010

In Memorium: John Cephas

Cephas and Wiggins: Black Cat on the Line


The Piedmont is a region that stretches roughly from Richmond VA, south to Atlanta. More to the point, it is a style of blues native to this area, dating from before WWII. The Piedmont style is characterized by the guitar player playing a bass line with his thumb while playing the chords and solo lines with the rest of his hand. Well known players in this style included Blind Boy Fuller and Rev Gary Davis. But probably the best known performers of Piedmont Blues were the guitar and harmonica duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Sonny and Brownie were active until the mid 60s, but in 1976 a new duo picked up where they had left off: John Cephas and Phil Wiggins. Cephas grew up in Washington DC, where many people from the Piedmont had resettled, and it was there that he learned the style. But Cephas always felt drawn to the country, and he was eventually able to move to Bowling Green.

Together, Cephas and Wiggins distinguished themselves with their ability to adapt classic blues tunes from other regions to the Piedmont Style. And Cephas also wrote new songs that were firmly in the Piedmont tradition, and sounded like they were old standards. Black Cat on the Line is one of these.

I hope that there are still musicians as talented as John Cephas to carry on the Piedmont blues tradition. It’s one of my favorite styles of blues, and I would hate to see it go.

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