Paul Rishell Clinic

Friday / March 25, 2011 / 1:00 p.m.
Berk Recital Hall
1140 Boylston Street
United States

For over 40 years, Paul Rishell has built up a stellar reputation as a torchbearer of the country blues tradition. At concerts and workshops alike, his audiences and students have been treated to his warm, resonant voice and virtuoso fingerstyle guitar, interwoven with a historical narrative of rural blues artists and recordings. Rishell has dedicated his life for the last half century to bringing recognition and respect to prewar blues, what he refers to as "the bedrock of all American music." A master of the guitar styles of Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Scrapper Blackwell, and other  innovators of the early-20th-century roots music, he is one of the few artists devoted to preserving their work as both a classical and a living form. His attention to detail and nuance is unparalleled. In 2011-2012, Rishell will bring his expertise to Berklee as part of a newly established country blues visiting artist program.

Rishell was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950, his family an improbable mixture of Pennsylvania preachers and Norwegian painters. At the age of 13, captivated by a recording of Son House singing "Prison Farm Blues," he began a lifelong study of the music and its progenitors. In 1970 he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and played with many of the first- and second-generation blues masters, including Son House, Sonny Terry, Johnny Shines, John Lee Hooker, and Howlin' Wolf. His early solo albums showcase his deft guitar playing and link the acoustic blues of the 1920s with the electrified ensemble sounds of the modern era. Boston Phoenix columnist Ted Drozdowski wrote, "Paul has reached a place deep and resonant as Robert Johnson's crossroads, where authenticity, soul, and a sense of purpose and commitment ring out in every note he sings and plays."  

Rishell and his partner Annie Raines have earned loyal fans around the globe, dazzling audiences with his rhythmic, syncopated National Steel guitar and Raines's harmonica wizardry. As a working team, Rishell and Raines have racked up hundreds of thousands of miles on the road in the U.S. and Europe, collaborated on original songs, and released five albums together, including Moving to the Country (2000), the W.C. Handy Award-winner for Acoustic Blues Album of the Year. They have performed on diverse radio and TV shows, including A Prairie Home Companion, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and PBS's Arthur and they are featured in the new jug band music documentary, Chasin' Gus' Ghost. Rishell's instructional video, Dirt Road Blues, was released in 2008 with detailed demonstrations and transcriptions of country blues classics.  

Rishell is that rare combination of performer and scholar. As a guitar teacher, he has shared his vast knowledge of fingerstyle techniques and regional styles with several generations of guitarists and afficionados. As a blues singer, he never fails to move his audience to tears. As a cultural historian and preservationist, he is a national resource.