I have spent some considerable effort in this space reviewing various trends in the blues tradition, including country blues. As is fairly well known country blues got its start down in the South during the early part of the 20th century (if not earlier) as a way for blacks (mainly) to cope with the dreaded, deadly work on the plantations (picking that hard to pick cotton). In this volume (and a second volume that will be reviewed separately) Stefan Grossman, the renowned guitar teacher and performer in his own right has taken old film clips and segments from early television and produced an hour of classic performances by the masters of country blues guitar picking and singing (Sorry, no women players presented in these productions, although there were a few. Women blues singers came into their own a little later.).
Country acoustic blues guitar playing was a central form of entertainment for those who lived in the country, desperately needed entertainment during and after work and for the most part had no access to electricity. Thus, this favored form of entertainment was provided in the backwoods "juke joints" where the whiskey, women and words came fast and furious after a hard work week. A small body of men, mainly in Mississippi, but also elsewhere in the South (notably Texas and North Carolina) fought to be "king of the blues". And the qualifications to win that title included being able to wield that old national steel guitar for all it was worth and sing something about two-timing women, the rascally boss or overseer or just plain not having any money to show for the week's work after those Saturday night bouts. In this volume the "king of the hill" is one Son House. This film contains the famous television performance of House's Dead Letter Blues. It is mesmerizing as he flails away at that old national steel guitar and trance-like invokes the ghost of his dead woman friend whom he has come to regret treating so badly.
Also present here are other classic performers such as Mississippi John Hurt, one of the key influences on the Northern urban folk revival of the early 1960's, and his quiet style of picking and singing: Josh White with his more urbane, almost jazz-like style; Big Bill Broonzy, a performer worthy of more extensive separate comment, in several pieces; Mance Lipscomb and his Texas style: and the Reverend Gary Davis and his clean picking and deeply religious moanings. I might note that some of the performances were done on a show that Pete Seeger hosted so that is an added treat although he, and others, are reduced to looking on in awe. That seems about right. This DVD is useful both for the experienced guitar player who is looking to see how the masters did it and for those novices unfamiliar with this kind of music as a good potpourri of styles to introduce them to the genre.