Another song by William Moore, whom I first got excited about in the mid-seventies when I worked up a version of his “Ragtime Millionaire.” I kept that in my repertoire, but didn’t pay much attention to the rest of his work till I got back from Africa. Then I began looking around for blues songs with interesting bass rhythms, and found this about the same time I got into Blind Blake’s “Southern Rag.”
It may be coincidence, but Blake connected those rhythms to the “Geechie” culture of the Georgia Sea Islands and Moore grew up near Savannah — a largely unexplored area for blues guitar research, which I’m tempted to relate to the Bahamian traditions of Joseph Spence and the Bahamian Blind Blake. In any case, Moore recorded this song during his only session in 1928 and it has some of those nice rhythmic touches. I simplified his guitar part and came up with different lyrics, because that was how it felt right to me, but the essential framework is his.
When I started doing this, all I knew about Moore was that he had been a barber in Eastern Virginia, and the main clue for that was a guitar-backed monologue called “Barbershop Rag.” Then, in the early 2000s, I heard from a fellow named Ryan Croxton, who passed along notes from an interview with Moore’s son, William Edsel Moore, by a librarian named Gregg Kimball, who has since published a brief online bio of Moore. It explains that he was born in 1893 in the country outside Savannah, where his father was farming, and moved to Tappahannock, Virginia, around 1920 after marrying a woman from that area.
His son recalled that Moore lived in New Jersey before going to Virginia, and apparently met his wife there. ““It seemed like he roamed, he moved around… I guess traveling and playing music and doing things like that.” Like many musicians of that generation, Moore abandoned secular music as he grew older, getting involved in his local church and mostly playing violin, and his son only recalled him singing blues on a couple of occasions.
“On the third of April in Tappahannock [Emancipation Day], that would be the only time I would see him… He would be on the corner with his guitar and people would be sometimes dropping money in a cup or hat, whatever they had, and sometimes he would play with some other guys, I never knew who they were.”
Moore’s son recalled his father as a “soft spoken,” self-educated man who attained a high level of erudition, writing poems and short stories, and a portrait painter. He enjoyed fishing and hunting, was a crack shot, but apparently overloaded his shotgun one day and blew off the little finger on his left hand, somewhat limiting his chording.
And that’s all I know about William Moore… aside from the music, which still sounds great.