Chicago-style blues bands provided the milieu for Tom Ball's talents throughout the '60s. He spent much of the '70s abroad before settling in Santa Barbara, CA, in 1978.
A noted blues historian, he has written countless articles on the music for various publications, and has taught harmonica at the university level.
His latest instrumental CD is entitled "18 Pieces For Solo Steel String Guitar".
© Tom Ball
Click here for a printer-friendly version of "The Earliest Solo Guitar Recordings".
Of interest to all of us who love the instrument
is the simple question: Who made the first solo
guitar recordings, and when?|
In the liner notes to "John Williams - Barrios"
(Columbia M-35145) no less an authority than Mr.
Williams himself is quoted as saying: "(Augustin
Barrios) was the first guitarist to make
recordings, beginning in 1909." Another source,
the notes to 'Nick Lucas: The Singing Troubadour'
(AJA 5022,) has Michael Pitts making the same
claim for Lucas, stating that Lucas "recorded for
Pathe the first guitar solo record ever made..."
So wherein lies the truth?
Recent research (notably Tim Gracyk's essay in
Victrola And 78 Journal no. 3) indicates that
both these sources are incorrect and that at
least two other guitarists predated both Barrios
"Octaviano Yañes," writes Gracyk, "appears to
have recorded solo pieces... for Edison in Mexico
City around March to May 1907." Of interest to
modern outside-the-box guitarists, at least some
of the Yañes pieces utilized alternate tunings
and/or instruments. Quoting Gracyk again, "(On
Habañeres) Yañes plays an instrument with at
least seven strings. From low to high note it is
tuned B E A D B B E.
"Dick Spottswood also identified two solo guitar
performances recorded in Havana, Cuba for Edison
by Sebastian Hidalgo," Gracyk continues. "These
cylinders... would have been recorded in late
1905 to March 1906, so these are arguably the
first guitar solos. Does anyone own copies? We
cannot rule out the possibility of earlier solo
guitar recordings made in Europe."
With regard to that possibility, there are rumors
of cylinders by Tarrega himself, from about 1903.
And just to whet the appetite even further,
musicologist Jack Silver (project leader of
Doremi Records' 'Segovia and his Contemporaries'
CD series) reports that a friend/dealer in Spain
can recall having sold several solo-guitar
cylinders by both Luis and Simon Ramirez that
were recorded on the Viuda de Aramburo label in
1895. According to the dealer, these were
compositions by Sor, Mozart, Lucena, and
Granados. Segovia would have been two years old.
And so the search continues! Until the missing
Hidalgo, Yañes, Tarrega and/or Ramirez recordings
surface, it will be impossible to pinpoint the
first solo guitar recordings.
I can only echo Mr. Gracyk's plea that if anyone
reading this should have any cylinders of solo
guitar, details would be much appreciated by
those of us attempting to answer these questions.
Please feel free to contact me via the e-mail link on my Guitar9