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John Cephas & Phil Wiggins

Piedmont blues specialists John Cephas (guitar) and Phil Wiggins (harmonica) are two of a handful of blues musicians who've benefited from the renewed interest in acoustic music in recent years. Cephas has been praised by the New York Times and other important media as "one of the outstanding exponents of the Piedmont style guitar."

Both were born in Washington, D.C., though Wiggins is 25 years younger than his guitar-playing partner. Both sing well, and their albums are a mix of standard classic blues as well as their own originals. Along with John Jackson from Virginia, they are some of the names that come to mind when we think of Piedmont blues. The Piedmont region (a geological term referring to foothills) includes the hills between the Appalachian mountains and the Atlantic Coastal plain that runs from northern Virginia to Florida. Piedmont blues refers to a blues subgenre that is characteristic of performers from Virginia, the Carolinas, Florida, and Georgia. Piedmont blues performers include Peg Leg Howell, Pink Anderson, Jackson, Blind Blake, and Willie Walker.

"Bowling Green" John Cephas is so nick-named because though he was born in Washington (September 4, 1930), he was raised in Bowling Green, VA. Cephas got his first exposure to blues from his aunt while growing up in Virginia. His aunt and her boyfriend both played guitar, and after his aunt showed him blues chords when he was eight or nine, he was off and running. Cephas' playing is influenced by the styles of Blind Boy Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis.

"Harmonica Phil" Wiggins (b.May 8, 1954), a self-taught harmonica player, cites Sonny Terry, Little Walter, Hammie Nixon, Big Walter, Junior Wells, and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) as influences. He began playing while he was still in high school, and by 1976, he was playing the Washington, D.C. Street Fair with gospel singer Flora Molton.

The pair met at a jam session at a friend's house in Washington in 1977, and both performed as regular members of Wilbert "Big Chief" Ellis' Barrelhouse Rockers for a time, before Ellis died later that year and the group disbanded. Since becoming a professional touring duo in 1978, Cephas and Wiggins have performed on tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department, including tours of Europe, Africa, Asia, South and Central America, and the Soviet Union.

The duo's albums include several critically acclaimed releases for Marimac Recordings, Flying Fish Records, and most recently, Cool Down for the Chicago-based Alligator Records. The pair's Flying Fish releases from the '80s include Dog Days of August, Guitar Man, and Flip, Flop and Fly. All are great examples of state-of-the-art, acoustic Piedmont blues. They remain a popular festival act, and can be seen throughout the summer months at most U.S. blues festivals. ~ Richard Skelly
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Blues Routes: Heroes And Tricksters: Blues And Jazz Work Songs And Street Music

2. John Henry

3. Step It Up And Go

4. Flipping And Flopping

6. Little Queen Of Spades

7. One Dime Blues

8. Bluetail Fly

11. Harlem Parlor Blues

12. Early In The Morning

16. Uncle Bud

x

Track List: Classic African American Songsters From Smithsonian Folkways

1. Bring It On Down To My House

2. Talking Blues

3. Nobody's Business (If I Do)

4. Alabama Bound

5. Pallet On The Floor

6. Chicken You Can't Roost Too High For Me

8. Candy Man

9. Going Down The Road Feeling Bad

10. Froggy Went-A-Courting

11. Monday Morning Blues

12. The Boys Of Your Uncle Sam

13. Raise A Ruckus Tonight

14. Reno Factory

15. Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

16. Honeysuckle Rose

17. Bill Bailey

18. When The Roses Bloom Again

19. Straighten Up And Fly Right

20. Careless Love

21. They Cut Down The Old Pine Tree

x

Track List: Classic African-American Ballads From Smithsonian Folkways

1. Mouse On The Hill

2. Casey Jones

3. John Hardy

4. Railroad Bill

5. Stewball

6. John Henry

7. St. James Infirmary

8. Staggerlee (Stackolee)

9. Lost John

10. Betty And Dupree

11. Old Riley

12. The Race Of The Jim Lee And Katy Adam

13. The Titanic

14. Frankie And Johnny

15. White House Blues

16. Louis Collins

17. Bad Lee Brown

18. Luke And Mullen

19. Duncan And Brady

20. Gallis Pole

21. Boll Weevil

22. Delia's Gone

x

Track List: Smithsonian Folkways: Classic African-American Ballads

1. Mouse On The Hill

2. Casey Jones

3. John Hardy

4. Railroad Bill

5. Stewball

6. John Henry

7. St. James Infirmary

8. Staggerlee (Stackolee)

9. Lost John

10. Betty And Dupree

11. Old Riley

12. The Race Of The Jim Lee And Katy Adam

13. The Titanic

14. Frankie And Johnny

15. White House Blues

16. Louis Collins (live)

17. Bad Lee Brown

18. Luke And Mullen

19. Duncan And Brady

20. Gallis Pole

21. Boll Weevil

22. Delia's Gone

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