CEPHAS & WIGGINS Richmond Blues Smithsonian/Folkways SFW CD 40179
It’s been three years since John Cephas “left the building”. I must initially indicate my personal involvement with him: I was the first person to record John in March of 1976 in the living room of pianist Big Chief Ellis outside of Washington, DC. John was the second-best guitarist and third-best singer of all the folks I recorded in my decade of field-work. He was also my friend. But don’t let that involvement color your reading of my comments.
This is another recent CD release in the series of African American Legacy Recordings under the aegis of The National Museum of African American History and Culture and The Smithsonian Institute. The album contains what was likely John’s last studio recordings – I do not know for certain because the label (unusually) does not give any recording data for this material. It’s 65 minutes of fine music by two of the most popular visitors to these shores around the end of the last century. Whew! John was a superb Piedmont blues guitarist with a strong and lovely voice, one of the best from the southeastern region.
This album is Cephas with Phil Wiggins harmonica tagging along in and around with him in fine fettle. John’s guitar playing is up-to-par throughout, while his singing shows some signs of aging/ill health. It’s not as robust as I remember from past recordings and performances. Phil plays harmonica with great ability and sensitivity, as ever. A good booklet of extensive notes, including a biography and song notes (save lacking recording data – location, dates) with lots of photos as part of the package. There are few playing “organically” within the Piedmont traditions today – John was one of the last “oldies” and he served us all well with talent and class. It’s up to others to carry the flag on now. Still, this is a good overview of their repertoire that is recommended with the slight caveat of it being John’s last date and showing it a little.
PETER B. LOWRY
pub: THE BLUES TIMES; #228; Mar 2012, p.8.