“Summer Solstice Rag”

Since late last Spring, I’ve been reading a fine new book: Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar by Jas Obrecht.

This 2015 publication from the University of Minnesota Press chronicles the “most prominent singer-guitarists who made influential and enduring recordings during the Roaring Twenties.” (pg.1, Introduction)

The nine artists who Mr. Obrecht chose to profile are: Sylvester Weaver, Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and Tampa Red.

The fascinating stories in this book have, of course, motivated me to listen to and add to my collection of recordings by these giants of acoustic Country Blues. This listening has been both thoroughly enjoyable and unexpectedly inspirational: after listening to “West Coast Blues” (1926) and “Southern Rag” (1927) by Blind Blake – who Mr. Obrecht heralds as the “King of Ragtime Blues Guitar” – I decided to try writing a ragtime guitar piece of my own!

Thanks to Stefan Grossman, I was already familiar with a ragtime chord progression.

In the April, 1976 issue of Guitar Player magazine…

…Mr. Grossman’s monthly column (pg.71) was titled: “Raggin’ The Blues.”

The 4/4 ragtime progression – “one of the most popular” – that he discussed in that column went like this:

| C     E7    | A     A7    | D7    G7    | C     G7   | C     E7    | A     A7    | D7            | G7            |

| C              | C7             | F              | Ab            | C     E7    | A     A7    | D7    G7    | C             |

Over the years, I’ve also frequently played two songs that are built on a very similar chord progression: “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Has Anybody Seen My Gal?)” by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis & Joseph Young and “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie.

So, realizing quite well that I’m no Blind Blake, I sat down with my guitar one mid-June afternoon, fingered an open-position C major chord and started fingerpicking.

By the beginning of July, I had something I liked.

I decided to call it “Summer Solstice Rag.”

Listen for yourself!

Here is a transcription, if you’d like to try playing it yourself (or you know someone who would)!

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