April 22, 2013

Scrapper Blackwell

Francis Hillman "Scrapper" Blackwell was an exceptional guitar player who's single-note picking style anticipated the electric blues of the '40s and '50s. He was a self-taught guitarist, building his first guitar out of cigar boxes, wood and wire. Known for being withdrawn and hard to work with, Blackwell established a rapport with pianist Leroy Carr, whom he met in Indianapolis in the mid-1920s, creating a productive working relationship. Carr convinced Blackwell to record with him for the Vocalion label in 1928; the result was "How Long, How Long Blues", the biggest blues hit of that year.

Blackwell also made solo recordings for Vocalion, including "Kokomo Blues" which was transformed into "Old Kokomo Blues" by Kokomo Arnold before being redone as "Sweet Home Chicago" one of Robert Johnson's most famous recordings.

Blackwell's last recording session with Carr was in 1935  but the recording session ended badly with both musicians leaving the studio mid-session and on bad terms, stemming from payment disputes. Two months later Carr died due to heavy drinking. Blackwell recorded a tribute to Carr ("My Old Pal Blues") before retiring from the music industry. He returned to the music industry in 1958 and was ready to resume his blues career when he was shot and killed during a mugging in an Indianapolis alley. He was 59 years old. Although the crime remains unsolved, police arrested his neighbour at the time for the murder. Blackwell is buried in New Crown Cemetery, Indianapolis.

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