BLUESMUSE52. UPDATED Oct 2, 2021.  

In my last post, about Louisville’s historic contribution to the development of the
blues, I possibly inundated you with too much information. But, then again, Louisville had one massive story to tell. 

If you were overwhelmed by the wordage, however, you might have overlooked the bit about Sylvester Weaver, the pioneering African-American acoustic guitarist who’s in the blues record books for his string of blues ‘firsts’.

The grave of the first recorded blues guitarist

I’ll recap those later; but now I want to remind everybody how Sylvester Weaver’s early blues guitar playing helped inspire the steel guitar sound now so integral to western swing music.

In 1923, in New York, Weaver recorded two instrumental guitar tracks called ‘Guitar Blues’ and ‘Guitar Rag’. These were the first solo blues guitar records ever. Now, in those early days of blues recording, there was very little to choose between blues and ragtime, the music that blues directly evolved from.

Subsequently, ‘Guitar Rag’ quickly became the first blues guitar classic, such was its popularity. Take a listen on the link here, then compare it with the next link.

Now listen to this.
On the left is a photograph of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, taken in Los Angeles in 1944. I haven’t put in a photograph of Sylvester Weaver this time because one featured in the previous post – about the only pic of Weaver in existence. Show it too many times and you’ll get sick of it and we certainly don’t want that.

But back to Sylvester Weaver’s ‘Guitar Rag’. The record wasn’t just a milestone in blues recording. In 1936, the track was covered by the white western swing pioneers, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, crediting Leon McAuliffe on steel guitar as its composer. Wills and the Playboys renamed the track ‘Steel Guitar Rag’, without mentioning Sylvester Weaver. The Texas Playboys’
cover version was so successful, it’s said to be the song that put the steel guitar genre on the country music map
and helped pioneer western swing.the

And while some experts say Sylvester Weaver’s original melody may have originated
from the 1915

Hawaiian song, ‘On the Beach at Waikiki’ by Helen Louise and Frank
Ferera, I can’t hear it
. But
‘On the Beach at Waikiki’ is well worth a listen, if only to give you an idea how
the early Hawaiian guitar players influenced America’s first blues guitar players.
And don’t forget, before it was called ‘steel guitar’, slide guitar playing was
universally known as Hawaiian guitar – where it was invented by Joseph Kekuku
in 1885. Here’s the link to Helen and Frank.

Frank Ferera was born in Honolulu in 1885, incidentally, of Portuguese ancestry. His American wife, Helen, was lost at sea in 1919, after falling overboard during a voyage from Los Angeles to their home in Seattle.
Before I go, here’s a
recap of what Sylvester Weaver achieved when he started his all-too-brief four
year recording career in 1923. Sorry to bang on about him so much,
but you have to agree the guy’s a legend (or should be) and deserves much more recognition than he currently gets.

 Sylvester Weaver cut the first country
recording, backing singer, Sarah Martin, on ‘Longing For Daddy
Blues’ in October 1923.

Sylvester Weaver was the first
to be recorded playing the blues, also in October 1923.
Sylvester Weaver was the first
musician recorded playing the blues, in November 1923.

Sylvester Weaver was the first
bottleneck or slide guitarist, in November 1923.

Sylvester Weaver instigated the
popularity of the steel guitar in western swing.

Should you want to hear a podcast featuring the music of Sylvester Weaver, hit the link below and go to How The Blues Evolved Part 1V.

You can find out more
about Sylvester Weaver and the birth of blues – over the last thousand years – in the
eBook ‘How Blues Evolved’ on these links: