Guitar ShortySome Blues players earn their nick-names over long hard years of playing; some tag on their place of origin or a physical feature; others are given a flashy nom-de-Blues by their record company. When the young David Kennedy walked into the Miami club where he was due to play and asked “Who’s that ‘Guitar Shorty’ you got outside on the marquee?” the club manager replied, “That’s you!” In fact it was another act, probably John Henry Fortescue who used that name, or maybe someone else, but the name suited him extremely well.

Born in Texas in 1939 and raised in Florida, the young Shorty’s guitar playing showed the influence of T-Bone Walker, BB King and Earl Hooker. His first records were produced in Chicago by Willie Dixon for the Cobra label in 1957, but when Guitar Slim asked Shorty to join his band in New Orleans, he grabbed the chance.

Working with the flamboyant and energetic Slim gave Shorty a taste for showmanship, and soon he was doing back-flips and somersaults on stage. Leading his own band at The Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, he backed many big name visitors before leaving to join Sam Cooke’s band on the West coast. In LA he recorded some tracks for the small Pull label in 1959 and, enjoying life by the Pacific, he gigged up and down the coast, including Canada, before marrying Jimi Hendrix‘s sister Marcia and settling in Seattle. Jimi saw Shorty’s act and no doubt picked up some tips on projecting energy from the stage! A couple of decades passed with not much success for Shorty, but when he appeared on TV in 1976 on ‘The Gong Show’, he played his signature tune ‘I’m Guitar Shorty’ while standing on his head. At least he won!

Shorty with “I’m Gonna Leave You”;

After thirty years away from the studio, Shorty cut ‘On the Rampage’ for the Olive Branch label in 1989. He toured Britain in 1991, recording ‘My Way or the Highway’ while he was there, and won a Handy Blues Award for Best Foreign Album. This re-kindled Shorty’s career at home and the excellent ‘Topsy Turvy’ on Black Top showed he had been ‘hiding his light under a bushel’. The back-flips had gone but the chops were in good working order as Shorty latched on to the Festival circuit, and gigged and recorded regularly. Two albums on Alligator, ‘Watch Your Back’ and ‘We the People’ both hovered outside the Billboard Blues Album Top 10, and in 2010, Shorty released two albums. Like his own mentor, Guitar Slim, Shorty was keen to bring on emerging talent, like the young Sal Gomez, and he played the 2010 Prairie Dog BluesFest with 10-year-old Tallan Noble Latz.

Shorty passed away from natural causes in his Los Angeles home on 20 April 2022.