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
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.
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.
text is taken liberally (if not liabally) from a number of sources, namely:
of Virginia's Virginia
Roots Music project brochure
Folklife Program website
The James River
Blues Society's "Old Dominion Songsters" brochure
Bruce Bastin's Red
Document Records' liner notes for Ragtime
Kip Lornell's book Virginia's
Blues, Country, & Gospel Records 1902-1943
William "Bill" Moore came to record for the now-defunct Paramount
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."
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
2. Silas Green from New Orleans
3. One Way Gal
4. How the Sun Do Shine
5. Catfish Woman Blues
7. Chicken Feathers
8. Rough and Ready Blues
9. Midnight Blues
12. I Got Mine
14. Stranger Blues
15. Unfortunate Blues
16. Ragtime Crazy
Moore on CD!
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.
Document Records - 1994
Traditions: Tidewater Blues
Global Village Records - 1997
the Blues: Essential East Coast Blues
Indigo Records - 1997
Black and Blue [BOX SET] [IMPORT]
Proper Box Records - 1999
Yazoo Records - 1992
Coast Blues: 1926-1935
Yazoo Records - 1991
Are there two Bill
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.
Haymes, a blues historian out of Lancaster, UK, and via his website
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.
in 64 Magazine.