The Columns

Playing the Blues

— by on February 19th, 2015

Blues guitarist and historian Scott Ainslie, a 1974 graduate of Washington and Lee University, has released a new album, “The Last Shot Got Him,” featuring songs by Robert Johnson, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin and even Disney.

On his website, he explains, “The guitar (1934 Gibson archtop) that spawned this recording came to me out of the blue. A dear friend in Louisiana played it in front of me about five years ago. Eventually, she sold it north. I have allowed this guitar to choose the songs it plays well, songs from when it was young, and songs that sit well in that larger context.”

Scott’s been playing the guitar and singing for more than 40 year and “still finds singular power and beauty in what two hands, one guitar and one voice can accomplish in service to the human spirit.” This CD is Scott’s eighth, and he says, “There is music here that is robust, joyful, humorous, and tinged with a sense of the fragility of human joy, as well as the temporary nature of our tenure here below.”

In a profile in the Charlotte Observer, he recalls his introduction to the blues occurred while living in the D.C. area in the 1960s. He attended concerts featuring blues guitarist John Jackson and Pete Seeger’s brother Mike.

His education in the genre continued at W&L when he traveled with a geology professor into the countryside and interviewed “old-time, folk and blues musicians like West Virginia’s Hammons Family and Tommy Jarrell of Toast.”

For Scott, it was the perfect opportunity to study turn-of-the-century music. “We found Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly and Muddy Waters. The Hammons and Etta Baker were still around. We could go and see how they used their hands, talk to them and get stories and a sense of what it was like for them before radio, electricity and indoor plumbing.”