Blind Boy Fuller — “Weeping Willow”

Here’s a really unique acoustic guitar blues by Blind Boy Fuller.

This is video is from the YouTube channel of ‘Ragtime Dorian Henry‘, who has taken over 1800 blues and ragtime recordings and made them into video soundtracks. You can listen to it all in playlists–an incredible educational resource for anyone interested in finding out about authentic, early 20th century blues. Dorian is a teenager from France who has been doing research on the blues, and is doing what he considers a public service “sharing this music with the whole world”.

I used to play “Weeping Willow” and this makes me want to pull it out again. What’s special about this blues is that Fuller goes to a minor chord for the IV–which along with the odd cadence gives the tune a very specific feel.

Fuller was from the Eastern Seaboard, and so is called a ‘Piedmont Blues’ picker. He’s considered to have been influenced by Blind Blake, and you can hear Blake in bars 9 and 10 of this piece. The bizarre turnaround is also unique, to my ear. Fuller was one of the cleanest, most rhythmically intense players of the piedmont style and a fine singer. Stefan Grossman has a guitar tab of this piece in his book “Blind Boy Fuller–Stefan Grossman’s Early Masters of American Blues Guitar Series“.

Every period bluesman has some tragedy in their story, and Fuller is no exception. He was one of the most popular recording artists of the post Paramount era. The collapse of the Paramount record label brought an end to Blind Blake’s reign as the top selling artist. By the time Fuller recorded, Blake had disappeared without a trace, so marginal was the life for these blind musicians in that era. Fuller was paired on recordings with harmonica player Sonny Terry. Because Fuller landed in jail for inflicting a gunshot wound on his wife (what’s wrong with this picture? Blind man wielding gun?!?–as another blind piedmont player, Reverend Gary Davis said: “if I can hear it, I can shoot it!”) the guitarist was unable to appear at the seminal “Spirituals to Swing” concert, and Terry appeared on his own. This unprecedented event, put on at Carnegie Hall in NYC by producer John Hammond, was the first national recognition of the acoustic bluesmen and the first warning shot of the coming ‘Folk Blues‘ era. The event also featured the ‘rediscovery’ of Big Bill Broonzy. Fuller’s absence and subsequent alcoholism-related death at only 34, also left the door open for piedmont guitarist Brownie McGee to join Terry and go on to tour the world, appear on TV and in films–and hopefully make some money.

Fuller’s body of recordings is one of the largest from that period, and the powerful testament of a brilliant musician. Well worth a close listen.

About Mokai

Fingerpicking Fool

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2 Responses to Blind Boy Fuller — “Weeping Willow”

  1. ccBurner May 7, 2009 at 7:19 PM #

    Wow, I guess one could feel sorry for Mr. Fuller, but being a woman I can’t show him much sympathy. I will me much more careful around blind musicians from now on 😉

  2. Mokai May 12, 2009 at 8:26 AM #

    I hear you. I’m not trying to make light of Mrs. Fuller’s pain or of her husband’s blindness. I’m trying to illustrate that the lives of these men and women were hard, that the pain in the blues is real and it is in the extraordinary music they played.

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