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Drink Small

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No, this post is not an injunction to moderation, or even a nudge towards abstemiousness of any kind. It is, rather, a toast to the achievements of Mr. Drink Small.

The blues fans among you no doubt are familiar with the “Blues Doctor,” who has what some have called the “biggest, deepest bass voice in the blues.” And it’s not just his voice, but his guitar playing as well.

Drink has received many honors over the years of his long career, which began in the 1950s. But he was most recently honored a few months ago, in October 2015 in Washington, DC. He was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.  This is the nation’s highest honor in folk arts.  We applaud this recognition of his contributions.

Photo of Drink Small as 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellow
Photo of Drink Small as 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellow

We in the Music Section came to know of Drink Small only a few years ago when a then new NLS staffer, Pamela Davenport, joined us in Washington from the South Carolina regional library for the blind.  She knew Drink because he had recently become a patron of the Columbia, South Carolina library, having lost much of his sight later in life, but still wanting to read.  We confess that at that time we had no blues fan or blues specialist in the Music Section, so this knowledge of Drink was something of a revelation, even though we regularly get and reprint articles from Living Blues magazine (on whose cover he appeared in 1992). But we are tuned in now and very much appreciate his contributions to a genre that is fairly well-presented in our collection. And Music Section blogger, Amanda Smith, has recently produced two posts here on the blues: Chicago Blues and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Small, born in Bishopville, SC, in 1933, was self-taught on the guitar and soon after high school organized a local gospel group and performed in churches. He was rated as one of the best gospel guitarists in the 1950s, before broadening his songwriting and performances in the larger blues tradition. Between 1990 and 2008, he issued six albums.

He has recorded a number of “colorful” (dirty blues) tracks, along with “more righteous” offerings such as “The Lord Been Good to Me.” His style has eclectic roots and influences, drawn in part from the Piedmont blues tradition. On this strand, our collection has a recent title adapted from Smithsonian Folkways, DBM 3642, Richmond Blues, where one of the two performers, John Cephas, identifies the songs as “Piedmont blues.” You might, in this connection, visit an earlier NLS Music Notes guest blog on this very title by Ed O’Reilly, Richmond Blues, from January 29, 2015.

Other influences on Small, besides gospel, include rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie, Chicago style and Delta. And when it comes to Delta, we have in our collection a strong set of four Acoustic Delta Blues compilations from Bill Brown, of Guitar by Ear fame: DBM02230, 2928, 2938, and 2930. This is not all. If you were to search our online catalog for “blues guitar” you would get over 200 hits.

You can visit our blog for some older posts on the blues, consult our catalog for numerous blues titles, or call us up at 800-424-8567 for more information on our blues offerings.



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