Nine O'Clock Blues: Blind Boy Fuller
Blind Boy Fuller is probably the best remembered of the group of Piedmont style blues artists that included Blind Blake, Josh White and Tampa Red.
Few traditional blues players of the 1940s and 1950s didn’t perform some of Blake’s music, his best known pieces being “Truckin’ My Blues Away”, “Step It Up and Go” and “Rag, Mama, Rag”.
Born Fulton Allen in 1907 in the very small town of Wadesboro, North Carolina. One of ten children in a non-musical family, Fulton stepped out from the family mold and learned guitar as a young boy. He picked up his sound from other local singers, field hollers, country rags and the rural blues styles of the Piedmont region.
The Allen family moved to Rockingham when Fulton was 18 where he soon after married a 14 year old girl. His eyesight had been deteriorating since he was in his mid-teens and he became completely blind somewhere around age 20. Fuller lost his laborer’s job along with his sight and his child-bride Cora could do little to support them, as she had to care for Blind Boy.
To solve the couple’s money problems Blind Boy Fuller began performing guitar and vocals when and where possible, often as a street musician. Being a street musician is the best way I know of to learn to entertain people, as you get an immediate gauge of success. Either your songs produce tips or they don’t and you know right away what works and what doesn’t. Therefore it should be no surprise that former street musicians are among the best loved entertainers and Fuller undoubtedly fits that label.
Blind Boy often recorded with guitarist the Reverend Gary Davis, washboard player and guitarist George Washington, better known as Bull City Red, and harmonica player Saunders Terrell, better known as Sonny Terry. After Fuller’s 1941 death, probably due to complications caused by excessive alcohol consumption, his music lived on, especially in the work of Reverend Davis, Tampa Red, Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna plus the pairing of Sonny Terry and Fuller protégé Brownie Magee. One more singer influenced by Blind Boy Fuller is much better known for his acting, Andy Griffith, who sometimes performed with Brownie Magee.
Fuller’s song “Truckin’ My Blues Away” along with being a hit for Hot Tuna, inspired cartoonist R. Crumb to create an iconic image with the album cover for Yazoo Records 1990 Blind Boy Fuller collection “Truckin’ My Blues Away”.
Blind Boy Fuller was more of an adapter than an innovator, but don’t think that makes him any less important. Fuller played very much the same roll in Piedmont blues that Robert Johnson did in the world of Mississippi blues; each took multiple local styles and blended them into regional styles that continue to define traditional blues today.
Unlike Robert Johnson, who recorded less than 30 songs, Blind Boy Fuller recorded a lot in the late 1930s and we’ll sample his work this week on The Nine O’clock Blues. Also on the show, the guitarist who has the distinction of having been a major influence on both Mike Bloomfield and Eric Clapton, Otis Rush. And we’ll listen to Rab McCullough, one of the lesser known members of the Irish rock crowd that included Van Morrison, Gary Moore and Thin Lizzie.