If one ever ran into Blind Joe Taggart in a dark alley, the only possible protection would be to have Blind John Henry Arnold with you. According to the famous folk singer and blues artist Josh White, there was only one man on earth who was meaner than Taggart, and that was Arnold. White obviously knew what he was talking about, having been abused and kicked around by both men, as well as the even more famous Blind Lemon Jefferson. Back in the old days when blind blues virtuoso roamed the streets displaying their genius for coins, someone had to lead them around. White was perhaps the most famous of a class of ex-lead boys for blind blues singers, a form of apprenticeship that has disappeared from the modern blues scene along with performers of the class of Taggart and his ilk. Performers trying to survive in such a lifestyle can hardly be blamed for developing what can be best described as street-hardened personalities.
Taggart was a fairly typical itinerant performer of the '20s, and most of the available information on him was handed down in interviews from White, who first met him when he was known as Joel Taggart in Greenville, SC. White's description of the difference between the two tyrants has become famous. Arnold was "mean, honest mean." Taggart, on the other hand, was "tricky, nasty mean. " Furthermore, he was not really blind, something that puts him in a subclass of blind blues musicians who actually had some vision available to them. Taggart had cataracts and could "see a little," according to White.
Of more importance than what Taggart could or couldn't see was the fact he was noticed in 1926. The Brunswick-Balke-Collender company from Chicago, which was beginning a series of record releases under the Vocalion label, was keenly aware that similar series of so-called "race" records were selling like hotcakes. Many types of performers were recorded during the '20s, and among these stacks of historic sides were this label's first ventures into recording singing evangelists, basically the gospel equivalent of country blues players. Near the end of that year, Taggart became the first full-time guitar evangelist to cut a side. The material he recorded was a happy meeting between his obvious versatility as a performer and the label's desire to try as many approaches as possible to the hitmaking destination. Taggart recorded several vocal duets with Emma Taggart, who was most likely his wife. Alternative takes that were released much later from these sessions helped create a further revision in the opinion of this artist held by blues scholars.
Not discovered by the mass blues audience during the folk revival of the '60s as was fellow meanie Blind Lemon Jefferson, Taggart basically had to wait for the CD-driven thoroughness of the Document label to fully illustrate the amount of ingenuity and inventiveness he brought to each of his performances. He also recorded duets with James Taggart, assumed to be his son. Like many busy blues artists, Taggart cut corners around recording contracts by recording under other names, including the pseudonyms Blind Joe Amos, Blind Jeremiah Taylor, Blind Tim Russell, and Blind Joe Donnel. Some of this activity was an attempt not to fool record labels but the Lord above, who it was assumed might not approve of Taggart playing the "devil's music" and could be tricked by a pseudonym. Taggart's music is sometimes considered to feature some of the oldest roots of any country blues artist. This includes melodic and stylistic influences from the Civil War era, considered a time when black and white musicians were perhaps not as restricted in access to each other's musical traditions as they would become later. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
© 2014 Rovi Corporation.