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Origins of Fingerpicking

Michael K. 14 Jan 00 - 03:18 PM
Les B. 14 Jan 00 - 05:58 PM
Rick Fielding 14 Jan 00 - 06:56 PM
Terry Allan Hall 14 Jan 00 - 07:31 PM
dick greenhaus 14 Jan 00 - 07:44 PM
margaret 14 Jan 00 - 10:33 PM
DonMeixner 14 Jan 00 - 10:43 PM
catspaw49 14 Jan 00 - 10:48 PM
Rick Fielding 14 Jan 00 - 11:33 PM
Michael K. 14 Jan 00 - 11:53 PM
Michael K. 14 Jan 00 - 11:59 PM
catspaw49 15 Jan 00 - 01:42 AM
emily rain 15 Jan 00 - 04:25 AM
Night Owl 15 Jan 00 - 05:55 PM
Amos 15 Jan 00 - 11:55 PM
Michael K. 16 Jan 00 - 11:46 AM
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Subject: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Michael K.
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 03:18 PM

This is a subject Rick Fielding and I discussed several weeks ago, but I would be interested if any other informed 'Catters can enlighten me on this topic....as I am interested in finding out how it all began.

I know all about Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, Mance Lipscomb, John Hurt, and many many others who popularized this style of music in the 20s and 30s......but where did they get it from? Who were THEIR mentors?.....Who were the true pioneers of this style of ragtime and country blues fingerpicking? How did it all start?...and how did it evolve into the styles of some of the gentlemen I've previously mentioned?

Hopefully this hasn't been covered here before (couldn't find anything in searching the threads), and other ''enquiring minds'' might want to know as well.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Les B.
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 05:58 PM

Somewhere in the last year I read an article (not sure if it was on the mudcat) that thought fingerpicking was an outgrowth of the picking of the multi-stringed harps found in West Africa (can't remember their name). Apparently players of those instruments use techniques of alternating thumb bass against melody picked on the treble strings with forefinger. I believe there was also a tie in of the diaspora of those Africans to the American Piedmont area (probably through slavery )where our guitar fingerpicking seems to have the oldest roots.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 06:56 PM

Yep. Les has nailed it. For what it's worth, the earliest acoustic fingerpicking on record (I think) is Vess Ossman picking Brilliancy Rag on the banjo. Believe it's from 1903.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Terry Allan Hall
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 07:31 PM

Actually, finger-picking goes back to at least the Crusades, when the Christians were influenced by the Arabic cultures (just before they attempted to anniliate it!), and brought back such instruments as the lute, ancestor to the guitar, zither, mandolin, etc.

Also, the ancient Chinese had stringed instruments that they played with their fingers, as well as plectrums.

Modern-day finger-picking goes back to all these origins, not just African.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 07:44 PM

It all started, of course, when a guitar picker dropped his tortoise-shell plectrum on a brown rug.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: margaret
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 10:33 PM

The West African instrument you are thinking of is called the kora. It's popular in Senegal, Mali, Gambia. Try listening to Toumani Diabate. If you want to see a diagram and description of the kora, go to www.coraconnection.com/pages/WhatisKora.html The Senegambia region , the Guinea coast, Angola, and Kingdom of Kongo were in fact the source areas for the vast majority of enslaved Africans in the Americas. Cheers, Margaret


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: DonMeixner
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 10:43 PM

It seems to me that finger picking is a natural progression of a hand placed next to some strings. I'd assume that finger picking came from the harp or Hakbreit or psaltery and when the guitar was discovered by Flaccido Stringorinnio in 1321 it seemed a natural next step to take.

Don


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: catspaw49
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 10:48 PM

Michael, is your question about the influences on Davis or Hurt and the like? That's interesting and I am interested in margaret's and Les's posts. Is there any substantive things known to have been said by turn of the (previous) century pickers? Who DID influence them? That bears some investigation.

As far as "origins" of fingerpicking........About the first time someone got a string/wire stretched across a board, they could either whang it with something or pluck it!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 11:33 PM

Michael, if you mean the "syncopated" style as opposed to "parlor guitar" style, I think you have to look in the direction of the ragtime piano. The double thumb beat replicates the left hand bass of the early stride piano players exactly. Now how far back 'that' style goes, I'm not sure.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Michael K.
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 11:53 PM

Yes Rick I was actually thinking more along the syncopated style (alternating thumb and melody around it)...akin to Ragtime.....but I do appreciate all of the responses in this thread as they are very enlightening and informative.

The big question for me still, who were the MENTORS of some of the greats I mentioned from the 20s?...and who taught THEM?


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Michael K.
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 11:59 PM

Didn't mean to ignore your question 'Spaw....I must have been typing in the above response to Rick while you were typing yours to me....but yes you and I want to know the same answers.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: catspaw49
Date: 15 Jan 00 - 01:42 AM

Forgot to mention that thinking of fine pickers, Maury Muehliesen would have been 51 today.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: emily rain
Date: 15 Jan 00 - 04:25 AM

but as for me, i'm with dick.


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Night Owl
Date: 15 Jan 00 - 05:55 PM

emily,....not sure if we should give you our deepest sympathy or congratulate you...laughing too hard to do either! (sorry.......great thread)


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Amos
Date: 15 Jan 00 - 11:55 PM

I dunno about it being a natcheral response to fingers on strings --- I spent many painful hours whacking my thumb up and down on the bass strings before I could fingerpick anything; and it was might UNnatcheral at first -- so much so, I bleeve it stunted my growth!


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Subject: RE: Origins of Fingerpicking
From: Michael K.
Date: 16 Jan 00 - 11:46 AM

I appreciate the responses here, w/thanks.

I also asked this question of Stefan Grossman, and here is his response.

John Renbourn and I have also both been fascinated with this question and we have spent hours upon hours discussing and researching the origins of fingerstyle guitar.

John in fact did his college thesis at Dartmouth on a subject dealing with tis issue - Parlour Guitar Music.

There are the obvious connections to African traditional string instruments which are also played with the fingers. But the immediate direct connection betrween the folk and blues artists at the turn of the century seems to land in Boston in the 1840s!!!!! There Henry Voorall (I hope I have spelled this correctly) was writing pseudo-classical guitar instrumentals for fingerstyle guitar. These were aimed at middle-class white women to play in their parlours - thus the named Parlour Guitar Music. Martin Guitars from this period are called Parlour Guitars.

Playing this music is not the most satisfactory experience. It is somewhat kitsch BUT certain tunes like SPANISH FANDANGO and VESTAPOL ( the former played in an Open G tuning and the latter in Open D) somehow found their way into the hands of black guitar players. They changed the rhythmn and swing somewhat but still the roots are clearly seen from the 1840s.

The question then almost becomes embarrassing. Could it be that the fingerstyle blues tradition that we love so much actually have derived from this source!! Certainly isn't romantic though the evidence seems to point in that direction.

One of the missing links is recordings. So much was being recorded at the turn of the century until the late 1930s but nowhere can we find examples of parlour guitar recordings.

In the Black tradition Elizabeth Cotten, Miss. John Hurt, Furry Lewis and others all played versions of Vestapol and Spanish Fandango. Bluesmen referred to the open D tuning as Vestapol and open G as Sebastapol or Spanish. Many White musicians from the 1920s also played these tunes and in their tunings. Very suspicious indeed. Certainly leaves a lot to the imagination.

Various Black musicians from the 1920s seem to have greatly influenced others in the field of fingerstyle ragtime blues. Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Willie Walker, Rev. Gary Davis and Lonnie Johnson are all mentioned by various bluesmen as being great influences (either via recordings or in person).


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