Alright, so I know this isn’t Throwback Thursday (in fact it is supposed to be new music Monday), but in my defense, unless you are a true Blues aficionado, Henry Thomas will probably be new to you. More importantly, it gives me the opportunity to not only expose you all to some of the best music of the last hundred years, but also to give you a history lesson – something I’ll never pass up. So, Henry Thomas – for someone so influential to the evolution of Blues music, we know very little him. Born in Texas in 1874 to a family of ex-slaves, he hoboed around for a few years in his teens and twenties, recorded twenty-three songs between 1927 and 1929, then disappeared, probably dying around 1930. We don’t know where he recorded his music, where he died, or really anything about him. We don’t even know if the picture of him below is actually him (although we’re pretty sure). And yet he was one of the greatest early Blues musicians, originator of the Texas Blues style of guitar playing which he created by adapting banjo picking to the guitar, and his songs have been covered by Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the Grateful Dead among others.
I picked the song Fishin’ Blues (1928) to introduce you to Henry Thomas for several reasons. One reason is that it is his most well known song having been featured on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (which I’m obviously going to assume you are all intimately familiar with). More importantly however, it is an excellent example of his use of the quills, a traditional African-American pan flute. Finally, I picked this song because it is one of the most clear recordings he has. However, it is not close to the crisp music we are used to hearing today, so remember that this song was recorded who knows where under less than favorable conditions over 85 years ago and forgive the sound quality.