The Library of Virginia

Before Recordings

New Technology

Early Field Recordings

Early Commercial Recording Sessions

Over the Airwaves

Creating Traditional Culture

The Interplay of Musical Styles

"Old Times Tunes" in Southwest Virginia

The Family Band

Mill to Microphone

Tidewater Tradition


Rising from the Mississippi Delta region, blues music was quickly integrated into African American musicians' existing repertoire of rags, dance tunes, ballads, religious music, and popular songs. By the early 1920s the fusion of these influences created the so-called East Coast or Piedmont style characterized by a highly syncopated guitar technique. Songsters, musicians who could play a variety of tunes and styles, usually played guitar on their recordings. They found ready audiences at rural house parties, mining and lumber camps, city street corners, factory exits, and town dancehalls. 

Born in Georgia, William "Bill" Moore was a barber and farmer in Tappahannock, although he also worked across the Rappahannock River in Warsaw in Richmond County. "Old Country Rock" demonstrates Moore's fine playing as the singer implores family members and fellow dancers to "rock." Steve Tarter and Harry Gay, from Scott County in Southwest Virginia, used classic blues lyrics and the 12-bar structure in their 1928 recordings for Victor, but the duo's highly syncopated and interlocking two-guitar arrangement reveals the influence of ragtime and string-band music.

All Recordings

Tarter and Gay, "Unknown Blues" (Victor 38017), recorded in Bristol, Tennessee, on November 2, 1928. Re-issued on Ragtime Blues Guitar (Document records, DOCD-5062).
William Moore, "Old Country Rock" (Paramount 12761), recorded in Chicago, ca. January 1928. Re-issued on Ragtime Blues Guitar (Document records, DOCD-5062).