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Sylvester Weaver: A First of Firsts Blues

With the number of folks flying under the auspices of country blues or pre-war blues, it’s easy to get passed over. Sylvester Weaver, though, probably shouldn’t have gone unknown to me for such an incredibly long time. It’s claimed that he’s responsible for the first country blues recordings ever set to 78. That well may be true, but I’m sure that there’s someone out there that disagrees – and probably has some proof. But regardless of all of that nonsense, Weaver, along with a few collaborators over just a few years created an important body of work that could be minimized, but probably shouldn’t be.

Heading into a studio during 1923 to back up Sara Martin, this pair is said to be the first such duo on record. There were certainly blues styled singers by this point, generally accompanied by piano or any variety of other instruments, but this particular set up was unique. In addition to cutting those two sides, both of which are included on Weaver’s first of two discs released through Document, the guitarist re-entered the studio a few weeks on to lay down some instrumentals. The results apparently changed recorded music, unfortunately, Weaver didn’t really benefit too much.

Getting a few versions of “Guitar Rag” as well as a rendition of “Blue Guitar” on record marked the first solo guitar recordings from this style of performer. What’s more is that both of those efforts are really more than entertaining. There’s obviously a strong hint of rag time on “Guitar Rag” – and yeah, it’s kinda what Fahey was trying to get at for most of his career – but these cuts are still rather primitive in form. While none will venture to guess that Weaver possessed anything other than an impressive guitar acumen, a few years on, his playing would sound pretty dated.

“Guitar Rag” certainly has the bounce that the genre check would pre-suppose, but there’s just a basic progression – one that would be endlessly recycled – and a simple bass part. A few other startling, early and eerie tracks crop up in his song book, but those first two sides are magnificent, making even the jaunt through oft covered “Smoketown Strut” seem almost pedestrian.

Regardless of the relative simplicity of it all, Weaver still needs proper recognition for what he achieved. His catalog might not be the largest as he wouldn’t record again after 1927, but even those efforts, where he’s joined by E.L. Coleman for some instrumentals, present themselves as something ahead of its time. Returning to a life outside of music – as a chauffer – Weaver wouldn’t again gain prominence in the following decades as so many of his peers would and wound up dying in obscurity. Of course, that’s relative as well. He may have led a pretty satisfying life, just not one as a guitarist.

Beyond that, though, Weaver would have a modicum of respect he deserved bestowed on his name when during the ‘80s a Kentucky based blues appreciation group began handing out yearly awards to those in blues that impacted the genre positively – thus the “Sylvester Weaver Award.”