JD ShortJ.D. Short is in nobody’s Hall of Fame, indeed his name is almost forgotten today, but he was a Blues player of exceptional quality. His clear, bright voice had a distinctive vibrato, but he could wail like a demon, moan like a dying man and suddenly switch to a fluid falsetto. He was an incredibly versatile musician too, playing piano, guitar, harp, sax, clarinet and drums, and J.D. also spent many years as a member of one of St. Louis earliest Blues bands. Although he didn’t make many records, every one was a fine example of the of country Blues in its transition to the city.

Born just south of the Delta in Port Gibson MS in 1902, J.D. was brought up with the sounds of original Blues all around him. As a young man, he learned piano and guitar, and he was in great demand in his community for house-parties and fish-fries. In the late 20s, he relocated to the ‘wide-open’ city of St. Louis, where the wild night-life of Speak-easies and clubs gave him plenty of opportunities to play for money. In 1930, billed as ‘Jaydee’ Short, he travelled to Paramount’s studio in Grafton WI, where he cut six tracks accompanied by his own guitar. A few months later he is believed to have recorded for Brunswick in Chicago, billed as ‘Spider’ Carter on a couple of releases, and as ‘Neckbones’ playing guitar and duetting vocals on a Peetie Wheatstraw track cut at the same sessions. In 1932, ‘Jelly Jaw’ Short made several records for the Vocalion label, and may also have masqueraded as ‘Joe C Stone’, ‘Ell Zee Floyd’ and ‘R.T. Hanen’. At a time when recording contracts were routinely ignored, a musician might walk out of a studio $100 for making a record, but have no say in it’s release, billing or royalties.

Superbly emotional harp playing from an unsung hero;

Back in St. Louis, J.D. started playing with a band called The Neckbones, (not the modern garage/punks!) who continued to play in the city from the 30s to the 60s. Among the many musicians to pass through that band was J.D.’s cousin Big Joe Williams. After that flurry of activity in the early 30s, J.D.’s recording career did not begin again until he played guitar and harp for Big Joe on Bob Koester‘s seminal recordings in 1958. Sam Charters finally gave J.D. the chance to record some of his own songs for the Folkways label in July 1962, but sadly it was to be his swan-song, as he passed away in his adopted home-town of St. Louis a few months later.