Last summer, I gave y’alls a Cephas & Wiggins Cold Shot that had no news peg, no current-events hook that made it relevant to that time, just a nice little cut to get you through the day and toss some props to one of my favorite traditional blues acts.
I am saddened to report that now, I’ve got that news peg: Guitarist John Cephas passed away this week. He was 78 years old.
John Cephas, in 1989
Cephas & Wiggins weren’t electric guitar heroes, they weren’t rock slaves. John Cephas played acoustic guitar in the Piedmont style, with the touch of an extraordinary folk talent and the love of a most devoted fan. Who were his biggest influences? Let him tell you in the spirited, autobiographical—at least he told me it was autobiographical in an interview I did with him once—song “I Was Determined,” from C&W’s Alligator album, Homemade.
He was a gentleman, playing quiet, contemplative country blues. Far from the bombast of Hendrix and Muddy, and even farther from rap and hip-hop, his songs fretted and fumed over the little moral decisions we make that, over time, begin to weigh on our consciences. Subtle and complicated, set in the simple blues style. That made C&W a niche act, only really accessible to people able to stop, unplug, turn down the volume, and process the music they were listening to.
But you, Popdose reader, get it, and can appreciate the legacy of an outstanding guitarist, maybe the top acoustic blues talent of the twentieth century’s latter half. I’ll leave you with a little schooling from Mr. Cephas on playing blues, Skip James style: