On this day in 1907, the great blues singer and guitarist Blind Boy Fuller was born. Among blues lovers, there is such a tendency to focus on the Mississippi Delta as to think that nothing else was going on. But as I wrote about last month, Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley, who were both thought to be from Mississippi were actually from Texas. And Fuller was from North Carolina.
He learned to play the guitar while still a kid, but had no intention of making a living at it. But in his teens he began to go blind and by the age of 20, he was completely blind. Much later in life, he learned that he had neonatal conjunctivitis. This left him no real choice. He started performing on street corners and the occasional party. His talent was such that he didn’t remain unknown for long. It was especially other professional musicians who picked up on him.
He has a pleasant enough voice, but it is his guitar playing that really stands out. He is considered a major figure in Piedmont blues, but it is probably easiest to think of his work as ragtime on the guitar. It’s the kind of playing that makes me weep with jealousy. Here is a song that doesn’t show off his great guitar playing, but it is just so much fun, I can’t help it. It is the traditional “Rag, Mama, Rag”:
“Rag, Mama, Rag” was one of the first songs that he recorded. But unlike a lot of great musicians from that time, he was well recording, eventually producing over 120 songs. Here is one that better shows off his guitar playing, “Truckin’ My Blues Away”:
Fuller had a very good career for five years, performing and recording up and down the east coast. But in 1940, he began having problems with his bladder, even having surgery for it. This forced him to stop performing and he died the following year from blood poisoning due to an infected bladder. He was only 33 years old. But he did leave a great legacy of music that enrich us to this day.
Happy birthday Blind Boy Fuller!