Over ninety years ago , W.C. Handy wrote in his autobiography, Father Of The Blues, of being awakened in the Tutwiler ,Mississippi, train station by the sound of a guitarist: "As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularised by the Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song too, struck me instantly: 'Goin' where the Southern cross the Dog'. The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard."
This description of a slide player is one of the earliest references to blues music on record. Blues slide guitar originated in the Mississippi Delta region in the early 1900's where it was popularised by players such Willy Brown, Son House, Johnny Shines and the legendary Robert Johnson. Mostly unrecorded, playing on street corners and at House parties, these early players evolved slide guitar into a highly-polished art form of many rhythmically differing styles, which reached it's zenith in the late 1930's.
In the 1940's three things happened which had a profound effect on blues guitar playing.
Firstly, the invention of the mechanised cotton picker and increasingly sophisticated farm machinery added greatly to the already bad unemployment problem in the Delta area.
Secondly, up north in Chicago, World War II was creating plenty of jobs in the industrial sector. This lead to an exodus of unemployed black people from the Mississippi area to Chicago.
Thirdly, an event happened that changed not only blues music, but all popular music.
In the late 40's the electric guitar was born. Blues musicians took to the new instrument with a vengeance. Players such as Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters and others created whole new styles of playing slide guitar, adapting and transcending the Mississippi Delta style and creating the roots of Rock and Roll using fat, distorted tones and aggressive, rhythmic playing styles.
The music created during this time is still being copied by many bands today, and the music that these bands create will inspire the next generation to learn guitar at takelessons.com and other tutoring institutions.
Slide guitar playing is comprised of one tenth technique and nine tenths emotion.
Today slide guitar is represented by a whole new crop of talented players. People such as Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Roy Rogers, George Thorogood, Jeff Healey, Keb' Mo' and too many others to name in America have kept traditional blues slide guitar alive and vibrant.
On the Australian blues scene we are blessed to have such excellent players as Dave Hole, Kevin Borich, Jeff Lang, Hat Fitz, Ash Grunwald, Matt Taylor, Phil Manning and too many others to mention here. Slide guitar, like the blues itself, is still alive and well!