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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 supports a syncopated melody using the treble strings generally picked with the fore-finger, occasionally others. The result is comparable in sound to ragtime or stride piano styles.
The term was coined by blues researcher Peter B. Lowry, who in turn gives co-credit to fellow folklorist Bruce Bastin. The Piedmont style is differentiated from other styles, particularly the Mississippi Delta style, by its ragtime-based rhythms It was an extremely popular form of southern 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. 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 guitarists such as Blind Blake and Gary Davis.
The Piedmont blues was named after the Piedmont plateau region, on 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, western South Carolina 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. It was a nationally popular with the African-American audience for about twenty years from the mid-1920s through to the mid-1940s. Blind Boy Fuller's 1940 recording of "Step It Up & Go" sold over half a million copies to both blacks and whites. This one style essentially overrode all other local styles on record over a vast area of the American South East.
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 popular at house parties throughout the South East and with older African Americans. It still had a very danceable beat. By the 1960s Piedmont blues was being performed at US folk music revivals and festivals by established Piedmont blues artists such as Josh White, Rev. Gary Davis, and Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, as well as Cephas & Wiggins, John Jackson, Turner & Marvin Foddrell, and Henry Johnson.
While musicologists such as George Mitchell, Peter B. Lowry and Tim Duffy collected recordings by the aging community of Piedmont Blues players, younger musicians such as Roy Book Binder, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Geremia, Keb Mo', Michael Roach, Samuel James and Guy Davis have carried on the Piedmont tradition, often having "studied" under some of the old Piedmont masters. The Piedmont style of guitar playing has also influenced other popular musicians such as Doc Watson, Paul Simon, and Mark Knopfler.