Blues Calendar Blues: Lonnie PitchfordLest anyone think I've forgotten the Blues Calendar blues, it's still on - I've just been thrown a little off my usual rhythm by the time I spent away from home the last couple of weeks.
This month’s featured artist is Lonnie Pitchford. When Pitchford came up this month, the name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t identify anything I’d ever heard from him. It turns out he only released one solo album, All Around Man, although his music appears on several compilation albums. He also played slide on John Mellencamp’s 1996 album, Mr. Happy Go Lucky.
From the calendar:
Lonnie Pitchford loved to play the diddley bow. This instrument, not even mentioned in most American dictionaries, is a single wire strung between two nails with a tin box as bridge: plucked, it resonates at different pitches depending on where a slide is placed. The slide might be a classic bottleneck, made by snapping the neck from a glass bottle and then heating it until it can be kneaded smooth, or the steel socket from a Sears socket wrench, or the blade of a jackknife. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King all made that wire sing. And the name of the instrument, reversed, provided the stage name for the man who transformed the blues into rock and roll.Nearly all sources are as lacking in detail as that from the calendar. Pitchford’s New York Times obituary indicates he made his first diddley bow from baling wire nailed to the side of his family's house in rural Lexington. By 12, he was sharing a guitar with his brothers and was performing outside of Mississippi by the time he was a teenager.
Pitchford (1955-1998) spent his life in Mississippi, absorbing and playing traditional Delta blues on guitar, piano, and diddley bow. Among his teachers were Eugene Powell and Robert Lockwood Jr., the stepson of Robert Johnson.
As you can imagine, I had a bit of a difficult time tracking down some music, but I managed to find a couple of songs. The first, “Old Dog Blue,” is straight-up Delta blues. It comes from The Harry Smith Connection: A Live Tribute To The Anthology Of American Folk Music, a 1998 compilation that also features performances from Roger McGuinn and Jeff Tweedy. The other song, “One String Boogie,” comes from the American Folk Blues Festival Live ‘83 album. It features Pitchford tearing up that diddley bow.
Old Dog Blue.mp3
One String Boogie.mp3