ESSAY by Fetzer Mills Jr. with photo· by Tom Rankin Glen Faulkner at home, Panola County, Mississippi, 199J. Allphotographs by Tom Rankin. any Mississippi blues musicians -- among them, Elmore James, Eddie Cusic, Big Jack Johnson, Lonnie Pitchford, and Napoleon Strickland -- began their musical careers by learning as cliüdren to play a one-stringed homemade instrument sometimes caUed a diddley-bow.1 A diddley-bow is usuaUy made by naiHng a wire to a wall or a board and using smaU bottles (often snuff bottles) as bridges at both ends of die wire. The instrument is ordinarily played widi a sUde of some sort, often a knife or a bottle. When buüt on a board, it is usually played on the lap, Hke a mountain dulcimer or lap steel guitar. The diddley-bow probably evolved from a musical bow commonly found in most of sub-Saharan Africa but particularly prevalent on Africa's west coast, from which most American slaves were taken.* Sometimes, however, the same instru- ment seems to have been invented independendy by poverty-stricken but musicaUy inclined individuals with no knowledge ofits African antecedents. Bluesman Lonnie Pitchford of Holmes County, Mississippi, for instance, says he figured out how to make one on
Southern Cultures – University of North Carolina Press
Published: Jan 4, 1999
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