A common complaint among authenticity seekers roaming the crossroads of the blues is that the music is too sanitized, too cleaned up. Not wild enough. This complaint will likely not be lodged against Robert “1-String” Gibson.
The title of Robert “1-String” Gibson’s instrumental EP, Basically One String, is both modest and hyperbolic. There is no “basically” about it; this is the sound a man can make with a one-stringed guitar, and yet it can hardly be dubbed reductive. In these short songs, Gibson conjures everything from the diddley bow (a wire string across the wall of a shack played with a beer bottle for a slide) to rock fretboard wizardry to John Fahey’s brand of mystic primitivism. The songs work in fast cycles, riffs hanging (literally) by a single thread. They are the blues boiled down like a chicken in a pot, revealing only the bones and the broth. The whole thing is nine minutes and it’s gone.
Gibson started playing guitar in Shreveport in 1970, but after stints in the Bay Area, he found himself whittling his experience into his distinctive guitar style playing for change on Bourbon Street in the ’90s. Regional culture reporters like WWL’s Frank Davis and Dan Garner in Shreveport have brought “1-String” some attention over the years, but his music remains ultimately untamable. His lyrical explorations meander between general blues themes to self-defnition, building “It Ain’t Easy” around the chant “Somebody said, ‘You oughta put that guitar down and go get a job’” and “It ain’t easy playin’ a one-stringed guitar.”
It’s easy to label this kind of thing a gimmick until you hear it in person. A YouTube video shows Gibson and his hobbled guitar flling every corner of Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium with the enormity of the blues. His riffs spiral off into solos and dissipate into the lonely blues echo with Gibson adrift, howling how his bad dog and his unruly woman kept him up all night long. Maybe the one string is a gimmick, or maybe that one string is all Gibson needs to keep the feral spirit animal of the blues tied up in his metaphysical yard.