Rollicking acoustic blues and ragtime from the internationally famed masters of the Piedmont style, rich in soulful authenticity. Gorgeous guitar and harmonica duets fueled by musical passion and their intuitive feel for each other’s playing.
John Cephas: acoustic guitar and vocals Phil Wiggins: harmonica and vocals
On Darkness On The Delta, musicians are: John Cephas,
John Cephas: acoustic guitar and vocals Phil Wiggins: harmonica and vocals
On Darkness On The Delta, musicians are: John Cephas, vocals Tal Farlow, lead guitar John Stewart, rhythm guitar Rob Thomas, bass Steve Williams, drums
Produced by Joe Wilson
Studio recordings by Ronnie Freeland, Burnt Hill Studio, Clarksville, MD
Live recordings from the first national tour of Masters of the Steel String Guitar, organized by the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and recorded by Pete Reiniger Mastered by Bill Wolf for Wolf Productions, Falls Church, VA Photos by Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve Packaging design by David Forte
*Darkness On The Delta (Livingston, Neiburg & Symes, Anne-Rachel Music Corp. c/o Warner/Chappell Music, Inc./Hallmark Music Co., Inc./Music Sales Corp., ASCAP)
John Cephas' Song Commentary
Stack And The Devil I've heard a verse about Stack messing with Mrs. Devil, and Old Scratch catching them, but I didn't sing it. Phil is still fairly young, and I have to protect him.
Railroad Bill They say Bill was an outlaw, but stealing chickens was the lowest thing you could do in Caroline County when I was young. Chickens were needed for family survival. So if you stole them, they'd shoot you, the preacher would not bury you, and the buzzards would not eat you.
Last Fair Deal Gone Down We've done that Robert Johnson song for years, and thought we should finally record it.
Sick Bed Blues That's from Skip James. He had more than his share of trouble, and he made music out of whatever went up, and whatever came down.
The Pimp In The Pink Suit He was a real guy, worked in that little red light section that used to be on 13th Street in Washington, five or six blocks from the White House. We'd see him on our way to Chinatown to eat. Somebody was always bending his ear, and we'd imagine what they were telling him. He also had a chartreuse suit, but we liked the pink one best.
Burn Your Bridges That's Phil's. He's full of great tunes, and the absolute world master on that little instrument.
Darling Cora I've heard that all my life. It was a black song, then white, so maybe we can get it back. John Jackson and the Foddrells did it. Steve Wade gave me a good hillbilly version a few years ago, and I started doing it.
Forgiveness Phil writes some thought-provoking and truthful songs. That is a good recent one.
Bowling Green Strut That's mine, named for Bowling Green, Virginia, where my folks have lived and worked for generations.
Darkness On The Delta That's an old torch song, recorded live in Madison, Wisconsin, on the first NCTA tour of Masters of the Steel String Guitar. The guitar man is my old pal Tal Farlow, one of the inventors of be-bop jazz, and the best chord man I ever met.
Reno Factory That's from the Foddrells. Turner and Marvin Foddrell were great musicians who had a country store near Stuart, Virginia. They had a pre-blues old-time house party sound with their father, Posey Foddrell-fiddle, piano, banjo, guitar, whatever. They could play Duke Ellington's music with the best of them, and had a bag of older music that went back to Adam. Great stuff. Most of it never got recorded. I miss them a lot.
Somebody Told The Truth On Me That title tells it all.
Something Smells That's from the singing of Blind Boy Fuller back in the 1930s. He was a favorite in my part of the country, and the old 78 discs were still around when I was coming up.
John Cephas was born in the Foggy Bottom ghetto of Washington D.C., near where the U.S. Department of State now stands. His father was a minister in that community. But his mother was from 'down in the country,' from Caroline County, Virginia, in the Tidewater area northwest of Richmond. Her family has lived there for generations. Little John was sent there every summer to stay with Grandpa John Dudley and learn the survival skills of country people. There was much to learn. Aunt Lillian taught him guitar chords, and Cousin David took him to house parties and country breakdowns (so named because the vigorous dancing sometimes caused cabin floors to collapse). John loved Caroline County, and decided to move there as soon as he could.
John served in the infantry during the Korean War. He was a bass singer in a traveling gospel quartet. He worked on fishing boats off the Atlantic coast. He became a highly skilled finish carpenter and 'lead carpenter' in a large crew. But he was always a bluesman. Skills he first learned from Aunt Lillian and Cousin David went with him to Korea, the boats, and the construction sites. There were always weekend and evening blues jobs, and there finally came a time when blues became John's only task.
Well, almost. There's a huge and very productive vegetable garden near the beautiful house John built with his own hands in Caroline County. There's a fine tractor and other tools for tending the garden. So John frets about the weeds that are growing when he is away on tour, and attacks them with a vengeance early in the morning on the day after he arrives home.
Phil Wiggins grew up in Washington, but his family is from Alabama, and they brought Deep South skills and sensibilities with them to the big city. Phil's fascination with the harmonica began in childhood, and was honed on street corners and in jam sessions of all kinds. Among the musicians who welcomed the kid with the harmonica was slide guitarist Flora Molton, who wailed gospel songs on the streets of downtown Washington for two generations. Phil worked bars with Mother Scott, an aged veteran of chitlin' circuit touring with Bessie Smith and others who are now legendary.
Phil began composing melodies and songs when he was very young, and his material has been recorded by an array of musicians in several genres. He has taught harmonica and performance skills to classes of inmates at Lorton Prison, and to high-risk youth in some of Washington's more troubled neighborhoods. He likes good food from pure ingredients, and is much respected by his friends for his extraordinary skill as a barbeque chef.
Phil is passionately devoted to his little instrument as a teacher and as a student. He has taught hundreds to play it, and he admires and keeps track of a fascinating array of other harmonica players, living and deceased. Of course he admires the blues harmonica players, but also the ethics, the hillbillies, the polka players, all of them.
John and Phil's touring in recent years has taken them from Russia to Australia, and scores of places between. This year they were featured in the long-running Arena Stage production of Zora Neal Hurston's play, Polk County. They and two friends, pianist Darryl Davis and trombonist-percussionist Norvus "Little Butch" Miller, were the on-stage band effusively praised by The New York Times in a rave review of the play.
The music they have chosen to record here reflects some of their urban and firmly grounded rural complexity. There are items here that John first heard 'down in the country' many years ago, and thoughts from Phil about our time. They are living and laughing at the foibles of life today, but with an abiding respect and affection for all who taught them.
-Joe Wilson Joe Wilson is the Director of the National Council For The Traditional Arts