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Out of the Blues

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, prewar acoustic blues guitarists such as Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and Reverend Gary Davis earned late-in-life fame as new audiences eagerly devoured their music through performances at events like the Newport Folk Festival and LP reissues and compilations on labels like Folkways and Yazoo Records. Acoustic guitarists, many of them young and white, became enthralled by this earthy music, recorded in the 1920s and ’30s and previously accessible mainly through old and rare 78 rpm discs. In an era before excellent roots and blues instruction was just a click away, and before the language was common knowledge among guitarists, the music was often inscrutable—the use of, say, a bottleneck slide or open tuning not always apparent to even the most attentive listener.  

Among the young musicians who fell under the spell of the blues in the 1960s were Happy Traum, Stefan Grossman, Rory Block, and Steve James, names no doubt familiar to readers of this magazine. All four spent their formative years in New York during the folk and blues revival, which saw a lot of action in the clubs of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, and in that neighborhood’s Washington Square Park. As such, these guitarists were able to seek out the old masters, befriending them and learning their secrets firsthand.

From the May/June 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar By Adam Perlmutter

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