HEY LOCO FANS – Happy Birthday to blues guitarist and singer Blind Boy Fuller born this day in 1904. Fuller was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists with rural African Americans.
Unlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time.
He began to lose his eyesight when he was in his mid-teens and is attributed to the long-term effects of untreated neonatal conjunctivitis.
By 1928 he was completely blind. He turned to whatever employment he could find as a singer and entertainer, often playing in the streets. He became a formidable guitarist, playing on street corners and at house parties in Virginia and North Carolina. In Durham, playing around the tobacco warehouses, he developed a local following, which included the guitarists Floyd Council and Richard Trice, the harmonica player Sonny Terry. Initially discovered and promoted by Carolina entrepreneur H.B. Long, Fuller recorded for ARC and Decca.
He also served as a conduit to recording sessions, steering fellow blues musicians to the studio. In spite of Fuller’s recorded output, most of his musical life was spent as a street musician and house party favorite, and he possessed the skills to reinterpret and cover the hits of other artists as well.
Fuller was a fine, expressive vocalist and a masterful guitar player best remembered for his uptempo ragtime hits “Rag Mama Rag,” “Trucking My Blues Away,” and “Step It Up and Go.” At the same time he was capable of deeper material, and his versions of “Lost Lover Blues” and “Mamie” are as deep as most Delta blues. Because of his popularity, he may have been overexposed on records, yet most of his songs remained close to tradition and much of his repertoire and style is kept alive by North Carolina and Virginia artists today.
In this sense, he was a synthesizer of styles, parallel in many ways to Robert Johnson, his contemporary who died three years earlier. Like Johnson, Fuller lived fast and died young in 1941, only 36 years old.
He was so popular when he died his protégé, Brownie McGhee, recorded “The Death of Blind Boy Fuller”.