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The term Piedmont blues, also known as East Coast blues, refers primarily to a guitar style, the Piedmont fingerstyle, which is characterized by a fingerpicking approach in which a regular, alternating thumb bass string rhythmic pattern[1] supports a syncopated melody using the treble strings generally picked with the fore-finger, occasionally others. The result is comparable in sound to piano ragtime or later stride.

The term was coined by blues researcher Peter B. Lowry,[2] although folklorist Bruce Bastin has also been credited with it in his landmark work Cryin' for the Carolines.

The Piedmont style is differentiated from other styles (particularly the Mississippi Delta style) by its ragtime-based rhythms[1] which lessened its impact on later electric band blues or rock 'n' roll, but it was directly influential on rockabilly and the folk revival scene. It was an extremely popular form of African-American dance music for many decades in the first half of the 20th century.



The basis of the Piedmont style began with the older "frailing" or "framming" guitar styles that may have been universal throughout the South, and was also based, at least to some extent, on formal "parlor guitar" techniques as well as earlier banjo playing, string band, and ragtime. Varieties of the older styles can be heard in players such as Peg Leg Howell and the Hicks brothers from Georgia, as well as in various musicians from other areas, including Mississippi John Hurt, Frank Stokes (from Memphis), and Mance Lipscomb (from Texas)--but if one is going to group musicians into regional styles, these clearly cannot be classed as Piedmont players. What was particular to the Piedmont was that a generation of players adapted these older, ragtime-based techniques to blues in a singular and popular fashion, influenced by such guitar virtuosi on records as Blind Blake and Gary Davis (as well as less-recorded masters like Willie Walker).


The Piedmont blues typically refers to a greater geographical area than the Piedmont plateau, which mainly refers to the East Coast of the United States from about Richmond, Virginia to Atlanta, Georgia. Piedmont blues musicians come from this area, as well as Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and northern Florida, central North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama - later the Northeastern cities like Boston, Newark, NJ or New York.


Recording artists such as Blind Blake, Josh White, Buddy Moss, and Blind Boy Fuller helped spread the style on the strength of their sales throughout the region. There were others on record of lesser impact, together with many who never got into a studio. It was a nationally popular commercial Black musical form for over two decades in the early twentieth century from about the mid-20s through to the mid-40s judging from record sales and their substantial influence: Blind Boy Fuller's 1940 recording of "Step It Up & Go" apparently sold over half a million copies to both Blacks and Whites. This one style essentially overrode all other local styles over a vast area of the American South East, finding national favor among Black record buyers and party-goers.

Post-World War II

As a form of Black American popular music, Piedmont blues fell out of favor on a national basis after World War II, but remained as a local, community-based music through the South East for older Black folks' "Saturday Night Functions" (house parties and the like). It still had a very danceable beat. As time progressed, Piedmont blues entered into the various US folk music revivals, becoming music for festivals (with mainly White audiences) rather than dancing, beginning in the 1960s. Before that it was up to Josh White, Rev. Gary Davis, and Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry to keep the Piedmont musical banner flying. Folklorists during the 60s (and later) located some heretofore unrecorded musicians (Cephas & Wiggins, John Jackson, "Peg Leg Sam", Turner & Marvin Foddrell, Henry Johnson) who successfully entered into the festival circuits.

In the 21st Century it's a case of diminishing possibilities as the older Black musicians die off (documented and preserved by Trix Records in the 1970s, George Mitchell before and after that, and today by the Music Maker Relief Foundation in NC). People such as Roy Book Binder, Doug McLeod, Jorma Kaukonen, and Paul Geremia are among those relatively younger White players who have carried the tradition on, often having "studied" under some of the old masters. Few Black musicians have taken on the style (Michael Roach, and Samuel James being exceptions). Today the finger-picked, ragtime-based style of guitar playing, and its blues repertoire, has entered popular and folk music in inextricable ways - from Ralph McTell to Ray Davies, Doc Watson to Paul Simon, Davy Graham to Mark Knopfler, Leo Kottke to Jack White.


Prominent musicians who play or played the Piedmont blues include:


  • Bastin, Bruce (1986/1995) Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press). ISBN 0252065212, 9780252065217 at Google Books
  • Andrew M. Cohen. (2008). "The Hands of Blues Guitarists." In Ramblin' on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues, ed. David Evans (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press). ISBN 0252032039.
  • Bruce Bastin. (1971) Crying for the Carolines (London: Studio Vista). ISBN 028970297.
  • Peter B. Lowry (1977) "Atlanta Black Sound: A Survey of Black music from Atlanta During the 20th Century" in The Atlanta Historical Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 2, pp 88–113.
  • Gaile Welker & Peter B. Lowry. (2006) "Piedmont Blues" in The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues, ed. Edward Komera (New York: Routledge). ISBN 0415926998.
  • Peter B. Lowry (2003) "Against the Wind: Tim Duffy and the Music Maker Relief Foundation" in Rhythms (Melbourne) #130/May, pp. 48–50.


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