This old 78 rpm record, released in 1929, contains a roomful of guitar licks and rhythm played by two jazz guitarists, one black (Lonnie Johnson), the other white (Eddie Lang), but appearing as a black delta bluesman, “Blind Willie Dunn”. The thing to notice is that although this record contains a bunch of speeded up blues and Jazz phrases and fills, it is not Jazz, and it is not Delta Blues. It is something different, with a fast, rocking, steady rhythm and a smooth bass line keeping perfect time from the rhythm guitar part. As Chuck Berry later famously said in in one of his signature Rock & Roll songs, “it’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it!” Or, as so many Rock & Roll kids later said on the rate a record segment of American Bandstand, “it’s got a beat and you can dance to it!” The Jazz soloists and Blues guitarists of that day, and thereafter, were notorious for ignoring time and rhythm whenever it suited them. Not so here. And not so in the 1954-1959 Rock & Roll. The Rock & Roll cats took the Blues and Jazz riffs, sped them up as fast as they could play, and kept correct time. They did, however, use the old Pop and Jazz music “stop-time” trick a lot, stopping and starting throughout the tune, which we will hear over and over again.

At the time this record was released, only a few of the Delta Bluesmen had been recorded: Freddie Spruell (Milk Cow Blues, Chicago, in 1926); Tommy Johnson and Ishmon Brady, in Memphis, in 1928; Robert Wilkins, by Victor, in Memphis, in 1928; Big Joe Williams and Garfield Akers, by Brunswick/Vocalion, in Memphis, in 1929. All of the other Delta guitarists were not recorded until the 1930s. Some were not recorded until the 1940s.

The Delta Blues licks were used by the 50s Rock & Roll Guitarists, but they sped them up and made them stay in time. The music was made to move to. Play the licks, but don’t lose the beat.

We have not yet plugged the guitars in and exploited electricity. That is coming. Soon.
Rock on!

Hand Full of Riffs – Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang as Blind Willie Dunn – Okeh 78 RPM 8695 (1929)

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