Playing Slide with a Pocketknife - Mance Lipscomb Captured on Film

Mance Lipscomb was an American blues singer, guitarist and songster. Lipscomb spent most of his life working as a tenant farmer in Texas and was discovered in 1960 during the country blues revival. He released many albums of blues, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley and folk music singing and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. He had a "dead-thumb" finger-picking guitar technique, and an expressive voice.

As seen in the video below, Lipscomb also played slide guitar with a pocketknife, a technique that was common with pre-1930's blues men such as Blind Willie Johnson and Gus Cannon. 

With his guitar in an open chord, Lipscomb would keep the closed knife tucked between his index and middle finger, holding it in place with his thumb.  This enabled him to solo up and down on the high string (a technique many people learned from diddley bows) and lay the entire thing perpendicular to the strings for full chords.

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I tried this just the other day. 

I didn't sound very good! lol

Thanks for posting this video, Shane. I discovered this video, and so many other early Bluesmen on film on YouTube. These are the tunes I listen to while I build my gits.I like the inspiration, and my grandson's get exposed to music they wouldn't hear otherwise. So many old films, TV show performances, etc. available through the interwebs. The roots of all good blues and rock. I also tried the jackknife slide. I was also not very good. Spoiled by glass slides, I think.

Les Blank made a documentary film about Mance in 1971 called, A Life Well Spent. It is amazing, as are all of Les' films. I first saw it in a small art theater in San Fransisco in the in the late 70's. linky:

www.lesblank.com

I have a old pocketknife(Old Timer) that is flat on the back side (opposite of the blade side) and I used it as a slide with good results. I put it between my index finger and ring figer with the middle finger across the top and played it lap steel style with success.

Mississippi Fred McDowell also used a pocketknife sometimes amongst countless other slide players that have

It may be that this was an adaptation, out of necessity. You'll notice how busted up his hands were in this footage. Life as a farm worker, (especially those who were still being treated as slaves), was not exactly what you would call, ... "easy". Therefore, injuries, quite a few of which could be seriously disabling, were VERY COMMON. So, it is likely most slides we are used to now wouldn't work well for them then. (I remember, years ago, seeing a photo of a blues player, who was missing several fingers on his left hand, using a shot glass as a slide. He wore it over the stumps of his ring finger & pinky.)

Being a physically disabled person can be very frustrating. But, if you're passionate about something, you WILL find a way to do it, no matter how unorthodox it may be.

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