‘Stick’ McGhee is not so well known as his brother Brownie, but he wrote some great boozy Blues songs, and one of them, ‘Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee’, has become a classic, covered many times down the years, including versions by Jerry Lee Lewis, Wynonie Harris, Larry Dale and Mike Bloomfield’s Electric Flag.
Granville McGhee was born in Knoxville TN in 1917, the son of the leader of The Golden Voices Gospel Quartet. His older brother Walter contracted polio, and couldn’t walk, so the kid brother got the job of pushing him round in a cart, using a pole to propel it, hence earning the nickname ‘Stick’.
Walter left home when his condition improved enough to let him walk, and travelled to the Carolinas and eventually New York City where he found fame as Brownie McGhee
. Stick got drafted into WWII and he wound up in New York too, when he was discharged. Stick was a pretty accomplished guitarist himself, and played on his brother’s recordings and also with harp player Sonny Terry
, who would go on to worldwide fame in partnership with Brownie.
Stick’s original version of ‘Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee’;
In 1947, Stick signed for ‘Ink’ Williams’ Harlem label, where he cut ‘Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee’, a drinking song he had made up in the Army, but the lyrics had to be radically ‘cleaned up’ on the record. It didn’t sell too well, but at that point the industry was in turmoil as a result of the ‘Petrillo Ban’ limiting the supply of records. Ahmet Ertegun had just set up Atlantic Records, and in 1949 he heard from an independent distributor in New Orleans that he needed a few thousand copies of ‘Drinkin’ Wine….’. Ahmet quickly signed Stick to his new label and cut an up-tempo version of the song, with Brownie adding some guitar.
'Stick' McGhee Discography
This 4CD box set has pretty much all Stick’s recordings for the Atlantic label, running to over 100 tracks. He is joined on most of them by his brother Brownie and Sonny Terry to make some joyous music. Crystal clear remastering make this collection well worth listening to, as the boys run through a long repertiore of Stick’s excellent songs, with some great versions of country Blues classics.
New York Blues & R&B 1947-1955
This great record got a lot of airplay and peaked at No.3 in the Billboard R&B charts, providing Atlantic with their first major hit and a big stash of cash to get the label going. Stick had another hit record on Atlantic with ‘Tennessee Waltz Blues’, before moving on to a long series of labels in the 50s where he cut many more booze-centred Blues numbers without overly bothering the charts. Stick was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1960, and passed away the following year. However his immortality is guaranteed, because as well as the big stars mentioned at the head of this piece, ‘Drinkin’ Wine’ has been recorded by Chuck Berry
, Fats Domino
, Little Richard
, Lightnin’ Hopkins
, Nappy Brown
, ‘Champion Jack’ Dupree
, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Johnny Burnette, Charlie Daniels, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Otis
, Ronnie Hawkins, literally dozens of bands including Crazy Cavan and Alcoholics Unanimous, Kid Rock, Ronnie Wood
, and even his own brother Brownie!