Happy Wednesday, everybody! & being as it’s Wednesday, the Monday Morning Blues sure is late this week, right? But here it is, pulling into the station at last, bringing another installment in the Poor Boy series for your listening & reading pleasure!
Today’s version of “Poor Boy Long Way From Home” is by Barbecue Bob, whose real name was Robert Hicks. Barbecue Bob hailed from Atlanta, Georgia, & in fact was a cook at a barbecue restaurant when he was discovered by Columbia Records talent scout, Dan Hornsby. Apparently the sobriquet “Barbecue Bob” was Hornsby’s idea, as was the idea to have Bob pose with his 12-string guitar while dressed in a cook’s uniform.
Although Barbecue Bob isn’t well-known today except amongst aficionados of old-time blues, he was quite successful during a career that was cut tragically short by his death from pneumonia at age 29 in 1931. Between 1927 & 1930 he recorded 68 sides at 25 separate sessions, & his records sold well—actually, much better than the records of some players who are much better known nowadays. In addition to playing solo, Barbecue Bob also performed with his brother, who performed under the name “Laughing Charlie.” Laughing Charlie never found the same popularity as Bob, however.
Barbecue Bob’s version of “Poor Boy A Long Ways From Home” gives us a good sense of his overall style. Bob used a big 12-string Stella, & as in this case, often played slide in an open tuning. In fact, a number of the old-time Atlanta blues musicians favored the 12-string, most famously of course Blind Willie McTell. Some music historians have written about an “Atlanta school” because of this, but as Michael Gray points out in his fine biography of McTell, Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes, McTell’s playing style tended to be lighter & more melodic than that of Barbecue Bob & some of the other Atlanta players.
Barbecue Bob’s playing style borrowed a number of elements from the clawhammer style of banjo playing. Although his style is a bit more “heavy” & percussive than some of the players most associated with the Piedmont style of guitar playing, it’s true that this style itself is closely related to old-time banjo playing styles. As you can hear in the recording, his singing voice featured a rich tone & a wide range.
It’s a great version of “Poor Boy” by a blues artist who should be better known—hope you enjoy it!