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Sylvester Weaver

b. July 25, 1897 in Louisville, KY, d. April 4, 1960 in Louisville, KY, blues guitar player and pioneer of country blues. Though little is known of his life and his influences, Weaver has the distinction of being the first country bluesman to have been recorded, almost a year before Papa Charlie Jackson and three before Blind Lemon Jefferson. His first sessions, as a solo instrumentalist and accompanying Sara Martin, were cut for OKeh Records in October and November 1923, with further sessions in March and May 1924. OKeh also used him as a talent scout and three years later, Weaver took Walter Beasley and the 14-year-old Helen Humes to New York for the series of sessions that marked the end of his recording career. He also made his debut as a vocalist and banjo soloist at an earlier April 1927 session. 'Guitar Rag', which he recorded in 1923 and 1927, was later used by Bob Wills' guitarist Leon McAuliffe (without acknowledgement) as the basis for 'Steel Guitar Rag', becoming the exhibition piece of all steel guitarists. Weaver was thus denied the one significant achievement of his career, and since nothing further is known about him except for his death from cancer in 1952, he may never have known what his talent had wrought.


Sylvester Weaver Biography by Uncle Dave Lewis

Sylvester Weaver was a versatile guitarist of Louisville origin who made the first solo recordings of blues guitar playing. Information is lacking on Weaver's early years, though it is not unreasonable to assume that during this time he may have had some connection to the Louisville Jug Bands led by Earl MacDonald and Clifford Hayes. Sylvester Weaver first turns up in New York in 1923, where on October 23 of that year he accompanied vaudeville blues singer Sara Martin on two numbers, "Longing for Daddy Blues" and "I've Got to Go and Leave My Daddy Behind," for Okeh. Two weeks later, Weaver cut his first pair of solo recordings, "Guitar Blues" and "Guitar Rag" for the same concern.

The Sara Martin selections represented the first time on records that a popular female singer had been backed up solely by guitar, and were an immediate success. Weaver would be assigned to cut 25 more selections accompanying Martin in the years through 1927. As to the fate of Weaver's own first recorded solos, they were equally well-received and would prove massively influential in the country market. "Guitar Rag" was later re-invented by Bob Wills into "Steel Guitar Rag" and became a country standard. Through the end of 1927, when Weaver decided to retire from music altogether, he recorded a total of 26 solo sides, and on some of the later ones Weaver was joined by another guitarist, Walter Beasley. In addition to his own solo selections Weaver made four recordings in accompaniment to Beasley. All of the issued records were avidly snapped up by customers in the rural mail order market, and both the Weaver solo items and the Weaver and Beasley records were well-known to string band musicians in the American south and west. Sylvester Weaver's work lies stylistically between blues and country music, and he had considerable impact on both musical fronts; among his recorded solos he made both a banjo record and several solos which make use of a bottleneck style slide (probably a pocket knife in Weaver's case). Although four of Weaver's pieces, including the banjo solo, were rejected by Okeh, all but one of these have been recovered and issued since.

After his heady days in New York had ended, Sylvester Weaver returned to Louisville and entered another line of work. Weaver was almost totally forgotten by the time he died in 1960. One player who still recalled Weaver was Lonnie Johnson, who remembered him as a good player, outstanding songwriter, and somebody who deserved a great deal more credit for his efforts than he would ever receive in his lifetime. In 1992 the Kentucky Blues Society raised enough funds to place a headstone on the grave of Sylvester Weaver, and this same organization presents its Sylvester Weaver Award annually to "those who have dedicated their lives to presenting, preserving, and perpetuating the blues."