During his time in Tampa Bay, Florida, he received his nickname, Guitar Shorty, when it mysteriously showed up on the marquee of the club he was playing as The Walter Johnson Band featuring Guitar Shorty. He steadily began to garner accolades from his peers and, at the age of 16, he joined the Ray Charles Band for a year. He then recorded his first single in 1957, "You Don't Treat Me Right", under the direction of Willie Dixon when Dixon saw him playing with the Walter Johnson orchestra. Eventually, he would join Guitar Slim's band and move to New Orleans, Louisiana. While in New Orleans, Shorty also fronted his own band which played regularly at the Dew Drop Inn where he was joined by special guests such as T Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and Little Richard. Not one to stay in one place long, Shorty next moved to the west coast at 19 in order to play with Sam Cooke.
He played up and down the west coast and Canada until he met his future wife, Marcia, in Seattle, Washington. His new wife turned out to be the half-sister of Jimi Hendrix, who attended several of Shorty's gigs and possibly being influenced by Shorty. Jimi was so enthralled with Shorty’s playing, he attended several of Shorty's gigs in the Seattle area. As Shorty’s popularity grew, he recorded three singles for the Los Angeles-based Pull Records label in 1959. In 1985, he released his first album On the Rampage on Olive Branch Records. Shorty soon got a record deal with New Orleans based Black Top Records. Topsy Turvy, his first on Black Top, came out in 1993. The album featured some fresh new songs as well as remakes of three classic numbers from his Pull days back in 1959.
He released two more albums on Black Top in the 1990s. When Black Top folded in 1999, Shorty moved to Evidence Music, and released I Go Wild! in 2001. In 2002, he was featured on the Bo Diddley tribute album Hey Bo Diddley - A Tribute!, performing the song "Don't Let It Go (Hold On To What You Got)". He joined Alligator Records in 2004. His album that year, Watch Your Back and his 2006 album We the People both charted on the Billboard Top Blues Albums at numbers eleven and twelve, respectively.
Billboard said of We The People, "it’s difficult to imagine that he ever tracks a better album than this one." A new Alligator Records CD ' Bare Knuckles was released in March 2010. He was then based out of Harlingen Texas where he met an up and coming guitarist named Sal Gomez. He mentored the guitarist and brought him on with his road band from 2010 until 2012. Sal left a lasting impression on Guitar Shorty for some of the more modern techniques he applied with the standard playing of blues guitar.
"He is a baaaaaaaaaad boy" was frequently said by Guitar Shorty at most of the shows Sal played. Guitar Shorty's guitar is named Red. The following years were both good and bad; to get by at one point even, Shorty made an appearance on Chuck Barris' Gong Show, winning first prize for performing the song "They Call Me Guitar Shorty" while balanced on his head. Shorty and his wife eventually settled in Los Angeles, California. By the 1990s, Shorty started to record his own studio albums, starting with the UK-based JSP Records release My Way or the Highway in 1991, which won him a W.C. Handy Award and garnering him interest from labels in the United States. His 2004 album Watch Your Back and his 2006 album We the People have seen his best work yet with both charting on the Billboard magazine Top Blues Albums at numbers eleven and twelve, respectively. Wikipedia Official Site II. Earlier this afternoon the Juke played "Like A Damn Fool (The Bear Blues)" by Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortescue) from the Trix album Alone In His Field.
I was reminded of just what a unique talent Shorty was, and thought he merited a mention. A bit of background: Shorty was born at "an unknown time" (according to the liner notes) in North Carolina; at the time he recorded for Trix in 1972 and 1973 he was "possibly in his early forties". Shorty was a farm-worker and laborer by trade. He died in 1975. Besides his Trix recordings, Shorty recorded at least two sides for Savoy in 1952, as "Hootin' Owl". In the original liner notes to Trix LP 3306, William Bentley claims that Shorty always tuned his guitar to EAEGBE, and always played with a slide on his little finger, though he didn't always use it in a given song. So much for background.
On to the music. In a world where the word "unique" is used way too often, hearing Shorty's Trix LP is truly a unique experience. While Shorty does some songs that are straight 12 bar blues, most of his work is far from that. He seems to have started with a more or less set backing on the guitar and a lyric idea, and went on from there with unpredictable results, which included humming, whistling (he was a great whistler), scat singing, falsetto passages, a vocal imitation of a harmonica solo, and spoken asides in which he often does several different voices playing different parts.
The songs that really set Shorty apart are the ones where he gets into a guitar groove and performs a playlet, for want of a better word. "Like A Damn Fool (The Bear Blues)" is a one chord "song" that revolves loosely around bears and foolish things Shorty has done, and ends with Shorty meeting the ugliest bear he's ever seen, which he eventually realizes is a mirror. In "Pull Your Dress Down", Shorty plays himself, a young girl in his house, and an FBI agent. (Rapping on guitar - "Who is that?" "FBI." "FBI? You got your clothes on" "Of course I've got my clothes on, why'd you ask?" "Well, we don't want anyone comin' in here naked.") Both songs are delivered with a frantic torrent of words - one wishes the CD came with subtitles.
Guitar Shorty is solidly within the country blues tradition, but he's certainly an eccentric branch of that tradition, and worth a close listen. This is one of those times when I wish the Fancourt/McGrath discography went past 1970. Did Guitar Shorty record anything else in the 1970s that saw the light of day? All of the Trix artists from the southeast leave me wishing more of their work was available. For most of them, like Henry Johnson, Peg Leg Sam, and Pernell Charity, this is because you get the feeling that these artists had more songs in a well-developed repertoire than have seen the light of day.
But with Guitar Shorty, I wish there was more just because I get the feeling that he could have been endlessly surprising. If shorty hadn't been born into a life of prejudice and grinding poverty, I get the feeling that he could have ended up being a musical Robin Williams or Flip Wilson. I can't imagine Alone In His Field was one of Trix's better sellers. Is anyone else here a Guitar Shorty fan? Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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