More than 60 years after its recording, Blind Blake’s rambunctious “Diddie Wa Diddie”–a double-entendre ragtime-blues–still stands as a fingerpicking classic. Blake’s musical vocabulary is prodigious, and his improvisational flair has seldom been matched. Each of the tune’s stanzas features a distinctively different accompaniment, and each of the three instrumental breaks is a minor masterpiece in itself…

“Diddie Wa Diddie” is set in a 12-bar blues framework, but Blake takes liberties with the expected chord structure. For example, in measure 14 he only hints at the IV chord. He then uses a chromatically descending inner voice to move again to the V (G~J. In the third instrumental break, he substitutes F#dim7for the second measure of F(bar 701, and introduces the circle of fifths in measures 71 through 75.

Blake’s right-hand thumb plays an active role in the rollicking syncopations of “Diddie Wa Diddie.” Often, he picks the root of a new chord an eighth-note before the next downbeat. This happens for the first time at the end of measure 2, where Blake brushes the C chord with his thumb on the fourth beat, and attacks the sixth-string Fon the last eighth-note, anticipating the following downbeat.

The end of measure 22 provides another good example of Blake’s thumb action. The fourth beat consists of a brushed strum followed C G/B C by an anticipated root (0. Blake continues picking with his thumb right into measure 23, playing the first-beat C bass note. The second note of the measure could also be played with the thumb.

If you get a chance to listen to “Diddie Wa Diddie,” pay close attention to Blake’s use of sustain and staccato. Also, his sense of rhythm is outstanding, although he rushes the tempo, which is more apparent after a second close listening.

Transcribed here are the instrumental introduction, the first stanza (vocal accompaniment), and the three instrumental breaks. The coda, which occurs after the sixth stanza, follows measure 14. The tune and some insightful liner notes on Blake’s diverse picking abilities can be found on Blind Blake, Ragtime Guitar’s Foremost Fingerpicker (Yazoo). Recent notable recordings of “Diddie Wa Diddie” were done by Ry Cooder and Leon Redbone. Listen to the audio guitar lesson and follow along to learn how to play “Diddie Wa Diddie”:

Audio Guitar Lesson: