On November 2, 1923, Blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver sat in front of the large horn/”microphone” of the acoustic recording machine in the New York City studios of OKeh Records. He played and recorded two original instrumental guitar pieces that day: “Guitar Blues” and “Guitar Rag.” The resulting 78-rpm record – OKeh #8109 – stands as the first recording of solo acoustic Blues guitar music.
Two weeks earlier, on October 23, 1923, and in the same studio, Sylvester Weaver was the guitarist on the first recording by a Classic Blues singer where the only accompaniment was an acoustic guitar. The singer was Sara Martin and the songs were “Longing For Daddy Blues” and “I’ve Got to Go and Leave My Daddy Behind.”
The success of these landmark recordings led to Sylvester Weaver cutting 25 more sides with Sara Martin, making 24 more solo recordings and waxing several duets with guitarist and (occasional) singer Walter Beasley. He made his last recordings in 1927.
Sylvester Weaver was born on July 25, 1987 in Louisville, Kentucky. He passed away in Louisville on April 4, 1960.
That’s pretty much all that is known about Sylvester Weaver.
But all we really need to know is in his music.
When I listen to “Guitar Blues” and the first notes start creeping up through the dense fog of scratches, pops and surface noise from the original 78-rpm record, I find myself turning an ear towards the speaker and closing my eyes or putting my hands over the headphones and leaning forward, straining to catch every detail.
Listening to old recordings such as this is like listening to ghosts.
Hear for yourself.
I’ve seen re-enactments of what it was like making records in the days before electric microphones and long before tape recorders. In these films, there is a Jazz band or small orchestra being recorded and the musicians are positioned in careful proximity to the sound-capturing horn, softest instruments in front, loudest further back, so that the resulting record has a full and balanced sound.
So, I can picture Sylvester Weaver, the lone guitarist, sitting right up close to the horn, playing loud; pulling the notes from his instrument and pushing them up towards and, hopefully, deep into that large, gaping mouth.
Here’s the flip side of “Guitar Blues”
The actual 78-rpm records this music was released on were made of shellac: thick, brittle, easily broken. The record companies at that time reserved the highest quality record-making material for their serious, Classical music releases. It’s a wonder that any copies of “Guitar Blues” or similar music from the 1920’s and 1930’s survived into the digital era.
We can listen to this music today thanks to a small, passionate and obsessed group of record collectors who started back in the 1940s building and sharing collections of these fragile gems. Those collectors saved this music and the artists who created it from certain extinction. They made it possible for these recordings to be preserved for us and for future generations of listeners.
“Good music doesn’t get old.”