Perhaps you’ve never heard of Mance Lipscomb. If that’s the case, it’s probably because he hasn’t set foot on a stage in almost 50 years—the prolific blues guitarist was born in 1895 and was only active at the end of his life, in the #8217;60s and #8217;70s and throughout the folk revival, before he died in 1976 due to complications from a stroke two years earlier. But Lipscomb’s influence on the blues, albeit shrouded, is still resonant today. Lipscomb stood out among other Southern blues musicians of the time for his intuitive finger-picking styles and melodies that danced. We freely associate Texas with the blues, and that’s in part because of Lipscomb, who spent most of his life working as a farmer and playing music in the Lone Star State. The son of an ex-slave from Alabama, Lipscomb faced his share of hardships, but his music was always transcendent. Though he was a heralded blues musician, Lipscomb preferred the “songster” classification, signaling his ability and desire to work in a variety of genres.
On this day (Dec. 4) in 1964, Lipscomb played Ash Grove, the storied L.A. nightclub that played host to bluegrass, blues and folk legends throughout its brief but influential lifespan (1958-1973). During this rock-solid set, Lipscomb played several songs from his classic Texas Songster recording sessions, including “One Thin Dime,” one of his most well-known tunes. Throughout the show, he plays his own songs (like “Night Time Is The Right Time” and “Alabama Bound”), as well as covers of blues standards like Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway.”
These recordings are an excellent showcase of Lipscomb’s guitar skills and vocal abilities, per Alan Bershaw’s liner notes for Wolfgang’s:
Recorded at Ed Pearl’s legendary Ash Grove in December of 1964, this remarkably clean and clear 1964 recording captures Mance Lipscomb in prime form. On this third set of the evening, Lipscomb opens with Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” followed by his own “One Thin Dime.” Both songs display his highly developed country blues style fingerpicking, rhythmic bass work, and dancing melodic lines, all of which enhance and emphasize his warm engaging vocals. On the traditional, “Motherless Children” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “The Titanic,” Lipscomb adds bottleneck slide to the mix to great effect…Lipscomb achieved what only a select few of the greatest musicians ever attain—the ability to infuse his personality into every song he plays. As an artist who predated the development of the blues, Lipscomb represented one of the last remnants of the 19th century songster tradition. Although his recording career was limited to the later years of his life, his influence is wide ranging, having a significant impact on countless blues artists to emerge in the 1960s and being one of the only leading lights of the folk and blues revival to boast a repertoire spanning two centuries of music.
Listen to Lipscomb’s 1964 show below via the Paste vault.