Country blues guitarist in the Deep South … of NSW
BY CHRIS JOHNSON
Ragtime – it’s that feel-good sound of yesteryear that is currently enjoying a healthy revival among music lovers everywhere.
Fast, earthy and complicated, it is designed to get people’s toes tapping and their feet stomping.
Long gone ragtime piano players such as Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton popularised the music with their compositions and sheer ability in the dying years of the 1800s and into the first half of the 20th century.
Brilliant guitar players from the same era like Blind Blake, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Willie McTell (yes, they were all blind) revolutionised the sound.
Only in their old age did some find wider popularity than the juke joints and black audiences their “race music” was, until then, exclusively played for.
In the latter half of the 20th century, when blues in general revived thanks mostly to young British white boys who sought out their almost anonymous black musical heroes and attempted to mimic them, was the style dragged out of the southern and Midwestern states of America.
Young American (white) guitarists who learned the fingerpicking country blues, of which ragtime forms a part, from the “rediscovered” (black) bluesmen of the south, are keeping the music alive today as they continue to record and perform around the world.
Notable exponents of the country blues fingerpicking guitar style include Americans Stefan Grossman, Roy Book Binder, Woody Mann, Rory Block and Paul Geremia.
But even here in far away Australia, there are some brilliant acoustic blues guitarists who keep ragtime and country blues music alive and well.
One such musician is Chris O’Connor (pictured) from the NSW south coast who is about as true to the music as you can find in this country – or anywhere else, for that matter.
O’Connor is the genuine article. Listening to him play and sing the blues is like being transported back in time.
And as is the case with most good music these days, he is an independent artist doing it all his way.
Beyond ragtime, O’Connor plays other earthy blues like the haunting slide guitar blues from the Mississippi Delta region.
His latest album, just released, is a wonderful showcase of all these country blues styles.
The CD I asked for water is available through his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Chris-OConnor-151291655024114/ and at www.chrisoconnor.com.au and has 14 tracks, all of which are his cover tributes to some of his favourite blues artists.
Traditional rags like East St Louis and Blind Blake’s Too Tight sit comfortably next to Willie Brown’s Mississippi Blues and Tampa Red’s Things about coming my way and more.
As well as his exceptional guitar playing (hearing is believing), O’Connor has the perfect blues voice – deep and dark but also able to get up to those falsetto highs like early blues singers often did.
And for this latest offering, he made the clever decision to have ragtime/blues piano player Don Hopkins accompany him on numerous tracks.
Add some sweet harmonica and mandolin on other tracks, from Jim Conway and Marcus Holden respectively, and Chris O’Connor’s I asked for water is pretty much the perfect country blues album.