A happy Monday from the rainy Pacific Northwest! The Monday Morning Blues will be transporting us to Texas today, at least for the three minutes & 14 seconds of our featured song.
It’s a commonplace, of course, that slide guitar is a staple of the blues sound; it’s also true that while several of the best known slide players lived in the Mississippi Delta area, slide blues styles were found throughout the south in the first half of the 20th century. However, in most cases the guitarists played blues while holding the guitar “Spanish style”—in other words, in the conventional manner. But slide guitar is also played “lap style,” with the guitar across the player’s lap, but while this style was common in Hawaiian music & in early Country (where it eventually developed into the related playing of dobro on one hand & pedal steel on the other), it was rather uncommon for blues guitarists to play slide in this manner (though blues historian Steve Calt claims that lap style, using a knife as a “bar,” actually pre-dated “Spanish style” slide playing.) Certainly many of the common riffs & figures in slide blues require the use of fingers fretting strings, & this really isn’t possible in lap playing—all the noting & chording is done with the bar itself. Of course the slide itself for lap playing is also different—it’s not practical to use a bottleneck or a copper tube, so usually players opt for a solid piece of metal (I have seen a video of Booker White playing lap style with a railroad spike!)
In any case, Oscar Woods is now thought of as one of the first players to popularize lap style playing in the blues. Although Woods hailed from Natchitoches, Louiana, near Shreveport, he was part of the Dallas music scene in the 1930s, & even backed Jimmie Davis of “You Are My Sunshine” fame on several recordings between 1930 & 1932. He also recorded with such bands as the Shreveport Home Wreckers, Kitty Gray & her Wampus Cats—& had one recording session with Peetie Wheatstraw, the “Devil’s Son-in-Law” himself. Wood also was a mentor of Buck Turner, AKA “the Black Ace,” who was another notable lap guitar Texas bluesman—& one who will soon appear in this series. It's also clear that Robert Johnson was familiar with Woods' work, as one verse of his song "Love in Vain" was taken from the Shreveport Home Wreckers' "Flying Crow Blues."
But Woods also made a dozen records in which he performed either solo with just his voice & his slide guitar playing, or as the front man. Perhaps the best known of these is today’s selection, “Lone Wolf Blues,” which he recorded for Decca in New Orleans in 1936. “Lone Wolf Blues” was the A side, backed by “Don't Sell It - Don't Give It Away.”
“Lone Wolf” is played in open G, but not the common open G tuning that was used so much on the Delta (&, interestingly, in Hawaiian slack key playing, in which it’s called “Taro Patch”); here the guitar is tuned GBDGBD, which means that the low string is brough all the way up from an E to a G. These days this tuning is usually only used on squareneck guitars, because of the stress put on the neck by this string (& to some extent by the low A string coming up to B.)
Image links to its source on http://4.bp.blogspot.com. That isn’t a photo of Oscar Woods on the album cover—no photos of Woods are known to exist. I believe that’s the Black Ace.