Birth of the East Coast Blues
Having sprung from the Mississippi Delta region, blues music quickly spread throughout the county, by way of itinerant laborers and traveling musicians, as well as through the new mass media of 78-rpm records. It arrived as a novel and fully developed musical form. Along the Piedmont region it was quickly integrated into African American musicians’ existing repertoire of rags, dance tunes, ballads, religious music, and popular songs. Traditional Piedmont guitarists adapted the blues to their sophisticated, almost delicate fingerpicking style, creating a distinct regional blues very different from that of Texas or the Delta. By the early 1920s the fusion of these influences created the so-called East Coast or Piedmont style characterized by a highly syncopated guitar technique. Songsters, musicians who could play a variety of tunes and styles, usually played guitar on their recordings. They found ready audiences at rural house parties, mining and lumber camps, city street corners, factory exits, schools, and town dancehalls.

In the late 1920s commercial record companies began scouting out and recording traditional black musicians in order to produce 78-rpm records that would sell to a new market -- rural black Americans. Among those recorded were a few East Coast guitarists who, though they saw little financial benefit from their recordings, became widely influential among aspiring traditional guitarists of the time. Artists like Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Arthur Blake, in particular, were revered for their technical abilities.

The Rise of Bill Moore
Only a few East Coast guitarists from Virginia actually recorded for the commercial record labels in the 1920s and '30s -- among them, bluesman like Luke Jordan and William "Bill" Moore. A resident of Tappahannock, Virginia, Bill Moore recorded sixteen sides for Paramount Record Company in 1928, more than any other Virginia guitarist. His reputation as one of the premier early rag-blues guitarists comes from that single 1928 session and the eight songs that survive, all of which are uniformly fine performances. Understandably, among blues collectors, Moore's recordings are among the most sought after of the Paramount "race" label outside the state of Mississippi.

Born in Dover, Georgia, in 1893 to Frank and Harriet Moore, Bill Moore moved to Tappahannock in his youth and eventually opened a barbershop. Apparently Moore supplemented his income with a little farming as well. It seems he may have operated a second barbershop across the Rappahannock River in Warsaw, Virginia. It was in Warsaw that Moore met and married his first wife Gwendolyn Gordon, who would give birth to seven children. Gwendolyn died in 1930 during childbirth -- the child survived. Moore later remarried.

With a solid repertoire of ragtime dance tunes, Moore was no doubt popular in the Tidewater towns and countryside near his home, playing fish fries, dances, schools, and house parties.
His "Barbershop Rag" testifies to both his fine playing and his profession. Audiences would have also appreciated his harder blues, like "Midnight Blues." There were minstrel number, like "Tillie Lee"and novelty songs like "Ragtime Millionaire," which was derived from two 1900 songs by black composer and entertainer Irving Jones. Contemporaries recalled his ability on guitar less than his skill at playing fiddle and piano. But songs like “Old Country Rock” demonstrate Moore to be a superb guitarist.

Despite the remoteness of the region Moore is clearly influenced by rag guitarists like Floridian Blind Blake, from whom he patterned "Old Country Rock" on Blake's "West Coast Blues." Technically speaking, Moore's style places him fully within the picking tradition of the Carolina-Georgia ragtime performers, for in "Raggin' the Blues" a brief four-bar break uses a staple progression of Carolina and Georgia rags. As in "Barbershop Rag," Moore employs his unique picking trademark -- the rapid succession of three ascending notes effected on different strings, by the thumb, followed by the first and second fingers.

Soon after World War II, because of declining health, Moore moved to Warrenton, Virginia, to live with his son Winston. He died there of a heart attack on November 22, 1951, and is buried in Sherwood Cemetery.

The above text is taken liberally (if not liabally) from a number of sources, namely:

The Library of Virginia's Virginia Roots Music project brochure
The Virginia Folklife Program website
The James River Blues Society's "Old Dominion Songsters" brochure
Bruce Bastin's Red River Blues
Document Records' liner notes for Ragtime Blues Guitar
Kip Lornell's book Virginia's Blues, Country, & Gospel Records 1902-1943
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How William "Bill" Moore came to record for the now-defunct Paramount Records is unclear, but in January of 1928, Moore traveled to Chicago, IL, to record sixteen sides for Paramount's infamous "race records" series. Of those sixteen songs only eight were released, on four 78 rpm records. The other eight have never been found.

The first coupling, "Barbershop Rag" and "Tillie Lee," was advertised in the Chicago Defender on May 5, 1928; the third coupling was first advertised there on July 28, but the company must have thought carefully before releasing "Old Country Rock" and its B-side "Raggin' Dem Blues," brilliant though they are, for they were first advertised in the Defender on June 8, 1929 -- some eighteen months after they had been recorded. Their release as by "William Moore" as opposed to the earlier three by "Bill Moore" gave rise to some speculation among collectors that these were different men, but sixteen lead sheets were submitted to at the same time by Chicago Music to the Library of Congress's copyright office on May 31, 1928, in Moore's name. As sixteen titles were submitted together for copyright, it is almost certain that they represent the complete session(s). The name credit was given to "William (Bill) Moore", except for "I Got Mine," which was credited to "William Moore," and the final coupling issued, which was submitted in the names of "Moore" and "Williams."

(So few of Moore's titles are still in print, so I'm offering downloadable MP3s below. These are lo-fi and only meant to give you an impression of Moore's full range. See below to find out where you can buy quality recordings. To access each song, double-click the title and you'll trigger the download.)

1. Tillie Lee
(Paramount 12613)

2. Silas Green from New Orleans
(unreleased)

3. One Way Gal
(Paramount 12648)

4. How the Sun Do Shine

(unreleased)

5. Catfish Woman Blues
(unreleased)

6. Ragtime Millionair
e
(Paramount 12636)

7. Chicken Feathers
(unreleased)

8. Rough and Ready Blues
(unreleased)

9. Midnight Blues
(Paramount 12636)

10. Raggin' Dem Blues
(Paramount 12761)

11.
Old Country Rock
(Paramount 12761)

12. I Got Mine
(unreleased)

13. Barbershop Rag
(Paramount 12613)

14. Stranger Blues
(unreleased)

15. Unfortunate Blues
(unreleased)

16. Ragtime Crazy
(
Paramount 12648)


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Bill Moore on CD!

Here's a list of just about every compilation I've found Moore featured on. Many are no longer available, but you never know when you may see one pop up on eBay or show up used on Amazon. Only one compilation features all 8 of his released songs and that's the out-of-print Document Records release Ragtime Blues Guitar (1927-1930). For $15 you can go to Joe Bussard's Vintage 78 website and have Joe make you a tape (yes, a tape) directly from his 78s. He's got all four records. Otherwise, here's the list of compilations.

Ragtime Blues Guitar
Document Records - 1994


Virginia Traditions: Tidewater Blues
Global Village Records - 1997


Raggin' the Blues: Essential East Coast Blues
Indigo Records - 1997


Broke, Black and Blue [BOX SET] [IMPORT]
Proper Box Records - 1999


Guitar Wizards: 1926-1935
Yazoo Records - 1992


East Coast Blues: 1926-1935
Yazoo Records - 1991

Are there two Bill Moore's?

Ever since Origin Records released its groundbreaking Really! The Country Blues in the early 1960s there has been disagreement as to whether two of the tracks -- "Old Country Rock" and "One Way Gal" -- both of which are attributed to East Coast bluesman and sometimes barber William Moore, are in fact sung by the same man.

Read the article.

Written by Max Haymes, a blues historian out of Lancaster, UK, and via his website EarlyBlues.com.

John Jackson interview

Before his death in 2002, 64 Magazine got a chance to sit down with Virginia blues legend John Jackson for a one-on-one about growing up in the blues tradition of rural Rappahannock County. Only in later years did Jackson's mother inform him that the man who used to come around and jam with his father was none other than Bill Moore.

Read the article.

Originally published in 64 Magazine.

 

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This tribute is brought to you by the folks at Rappahannock River Oysters, LLC.