Keeper of The Piedmont Blues: Freddie Vanderford.
The Piedmont Blues runs from the Virgina state line all the way to the of bottom of Georiga. The Blues genre has spawned from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants and storytelling ballads. The Piedmont Blues blended both Black and White in the urban mid-Atlantic region. The style of picking is an abbreviated rhythm played by the thumb on bass strings of the instrument while the melody is picked on the treble strings. The music is emotional, and filled with heartbreaking loneliness.
In a small mill village in rural Union County, South Carolina in a town called Buffalo, the tradition of The Piedmont Blues is still being preserved by Freddie Vanderford. Freddie started at a young age from his grandfather who was into the country sound. He would later discover the Blues and pick up the Harmonica, all the while mixing the blues with the country sound that his grandfather had taught him. He started playing in garage bands in his teenage years, playing British Invasion rock tunes then turning to such blues-harp giants as Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. Fate would change one day as a 16-year-old Vanderford was listening to the local Union County AM radio station to hear a guy by the name of “Peg Leg Sam”. He was playing blues that was foreign to anything he had ever heard on any record. This was a unique type of blues with rhythm like a heartbeat.
Freddie discovered the Union Country AM disc jockey actually lived in the very same county as he did and was playing traveling medicine shows with Pink Anderson (who turned out to be the “Pink” in Pink Floyd). Pink was becoming a well know street Bluesman from the country up in Spartanburg. Peg Leg Sam (Arthur Jackson) earned his nickname from a hoboing accident along with a shooting that lost part of his ear in the 1930s. He was living in rural Jonesville, South Carolina in a house with no electricity and no running water.
Freddie found out where Peg Leg Sam was living and loaded up to go and see him, only to find he wasn’t at home. Sam’s brother told him to come back that evening. He really wanted to learn this style of blues from Peg Leg. But when Peg Leg finally met Freddie, he wouldn’t play for him. He would have Freddie play for him instead, and have him chop wood for the fireplace, bring him fresh water, go to the liquor store and basically work him like a dog. (I think he wanted Freddie to feel the lifestyle of the Blues which is a genre of hardship, bad luck, loneliness- and the only way you’re gonna get it, is to live it.) Eventually, Peg Leg started opening up to the young man. It wasn’t easy for a young man to go to a real liquor store filled with moonshine, card games, straight razors, and pistols laying next to peoples moneys. This was the lifestyle and brutal reality of Peg Leg’s life.After he felt Freddie had paid his dues, so to speak, Peg Leg took Freddie under his wing and began teaching him this style of the Blues.
Peg Leg Sam
Peg Leg passed away October 27, 1977. He was sixty-six years old. Since then, Freddie has preserved the history of Peg Leg and the Palmento Blues genre. He has preformed for diverse crowds locally, regionally and anywhere in between. A harmonica, washboard and a guitar are his weapons as he defends the gospel of the blues, all the while putting a spin just about any Folk, Soul, Funk, Americana or Rock song.
The wisdom Peg Leg gave him has enabled him to charm any audience with his takes on Pink Anderson’s “Chickens”, Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”” or Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”. Recently, he has a recorded an album called “Greasy Greens” (a Peg Leg song) with the help of local guitar extraordinaire Brandon Turner who produced the album. It’s filled with Fred’s madman-like frenzy on the Harp on originals and select covers. He plays every Tuesday at Shady’s, a local club right out side of his home town of Buffalo, and carries the passion for the music he dearly loves. The Piedmont Blues will not die, as Freddie mentors upcoming musicians by teaching workshops and just putting on really great shows. In 2010 , he was awarded the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award for maintaining and sharing the tradition of the Piedmont blues harp. From gigs to the South Carolina State House, to any hole-in-the-wall Honky Tonk in between, the Piedmont Blues is alive and well through Freddie Vanderford.
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*All Photos courtesy of the Vanderford family.
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Jason Wallace Robinson hails from Spartanburg, South Carolina. He’s a writer, storyteller, philosopher, single father raising two children, music lover, dreamer, joker. He writes to speak for the common man. He enjoys football and driving around in his 96 Chevy Lumina adorned with an American Flag and decorative bird offerings.
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