Born: 1893 in Jacksonville FL
Died: 1933 in Jacksonville FL
Blind Blake is one of the most mysterious figures in blues music, and little about the artist is known for sure outside of the amazing performances that he recorded during a relatively brief period of time. Blake's unique finger-picked guitar technique was intricate and difficult to duplicate, and he is credited with developing a way to replicate ragtime piano style on the guitar fretboard. Blake's music influenced a generation of Piedmont bluesmen to follow, as well as contemporary musicians like Ry Cooder and Jorma Kaukonen.
The Mystery of Blind Blake
There is a lot of confusion about nearly every aspect of Blind Blake's life, in spite of the hard work of a number of blues historians through the years. It is generally believed that he was born Arthur Blake during the early-1890s, his birth attributed most often to either 1893 or 1895. Some writers have speculated that his real name was Arthur Phelps, but there is little evidence to support this, and many of his recordings were copyrighted under the name Arthur Blake.
Paramount Records, in its promotional materials, listed Blake's birthplace as Jacksonville, Florida, but due to his use of a Geechee dialect, many feel that Blake had some connection to the Georgia Sea Islands. The promotional photo Paramount made of the guitarist is the only photo of Blake known to exist.
Blake's death is also lost to history, probably linked to his heavy drinking, and he is believed to have died in 1933 in Jacksonville. In an interview with musician Stefan Grossman, folk artist Rev. Gary Davis says that he heard that Blake had been hit by a streetcar. It's unlikely that historians will ever know the truth.
A Short But Successful Career
Sometime during the early 1920s, Blake is thought to have made his way north to Chicago, and he was signed to a recording contract by Paramount Records in 1926. Blake's first record, "Early Morning Blues" b/w "West Coast Blues," was a hit, which subsequently led to a number of other releases. Between 1926 and 1932, Blake recorded a total of 79 songs for Paramount, and throughout the decade of the '20s, Blake - along with Blind Lemon Jefferson - was one of the most popular male blues artists in the country.
Blake recorded his last side for Paramount in 1932, shortly before the label went bankrupt, but his records and guitar technique helped define the Piedmont blues style, influencing artists like Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and Brownie McGhee. Blake's sense of humor and complex sound helped make songs like "Southern Rag," "Diddie Wa Diddie," and "Police Dog Blues," among others, into country-blues standards.
Recommended Albums: Yazoo's The Best Of Blind Blake is an essential introduction to this influential artist, collecting nearly two-dozen of the artist's best songs. Like many early-era blues artists, the material is drawn from scratchy old 78s, so although the sound is imperfect, the performances shine through nonetheless.