to fit his own, which involved playing rhythm on the bass strings of the guitar with a thumb pick. Jones’s innovation was the key development that led to the uniqueness of the Muhlenberg Sound, which was basically an adaptation for guitar of the stride and ragtime piano styles.
Stride got its name from the striding left hand playing what was known as a vamping bass, alternating between the strong notes on the downbeat and chords on the upbeat. The rapidity of the movements of the left hand brought the comparison to walking with long steps, or striding. With its emphasis on the downbeat and a propulsive rhythm, the stride style was useful in that one instrument could provide the rhythm necessary for dancing while still leaving room for the right hand (on piano) or index finger (on guitar) to play the melody.
In the 1920s, stride was, if you will, just hitting its stride in New York’s Harlem, where jazz pianist James P. Johnson, its progenitor, was passing it on to disciples such as Fats Waller and Duke Ellington just as Kennedy Jones was passing it on to Mose Rager. It was a fascinating musical development in American music in that usually, when a group needed to adapt its style for dancing, it would simply add more instruments. In the case of western Kentucky, this was not necessarily the case. The modification of the guitar style proved to be a revolutionary advancement in guitar playing.
Chet Atkins, Mose Rager & Merle ravis
Photo courtesy of Mose Rager Estate