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Thu, 01.08.1903

Tampa Red, Blues Musician born

Tampa Red

*On this date, in 1903, Tampa Red was born.  He was a Black Chicago blues musician.  

Tampa Red was born in Hudson Woodbridge in Smithville, Georgia. His parents died when he was a child, and he moved to Tampa, Florida, where he was raised by his aunt and grandmother and adopted their surname, Whittaker. He emulated his older brother, Eddie, who played the guitar, and he was especially inspired by an old street musician, Piccolo Pete, who first taught him to play blues licks on the guitar.  In the 1920s, having already perfected his slide technique, he moved to Chicago, Illinois. He began his music career by adopting the name "Tampa Red," about his childhood home and light-colored skin.  

His big break came when he was hired to accompany Ma Rainey. He began recording in 1928 with "It's Tight Like That" in a bawdy and humorous style that became known as hokum. His early recordings were mostly collaborations with Thomas A. Dorsey.  The two recorded almost 90 sides, sometimes as the Hokum Boys or, with Frankie Jaxon, as Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band.  

In 1928, Tampa Red became the first Black musician to play a National steel-bodied resonator guitar, the loudest and showiest guitar available before amplification, acquiring one in the first year they were available. This allowed him to develop his trademark bottleneck style, playing single-string runs, not block chords, a forerunner of later blues and rock guitar soloing.  The National guitar he used was a gold-plated tritone, found in Illinois in the 1990s by Randy Clemens, a music shop owner and guitarist, and later sold to the Experience Music Project in Seattle.  

Tampa Red was known as "The Man with the Gold Guitar," In the 1930s, he was billed as "The Guitar Wizard." In 1931, he recorded "Depression Blues," including the topical lyrics, "If I could tell my troubles, it would ease my poor heart, but Depression has got me, somebody help me please."  His partnership with Dorsey ended in 1932, but he remained in demand as a session musician, working with John Lee "Sonny Boy" WilliamsonMemphis MinnieBig Maceo, and many others.  He signed with Victor Records in 1934 and remained on their artist roster until 1953. He formed the Chicago Five, a group of session musicians who created what became known as the Bluebird sound, a precursor of the small-group style of later jump blues and rock-and-roll bands.  

He was "rediscovered" in the blues revival of the late 1950s, like many other surviving early-recorded blues artists, such as Son House and Skip James. He made his last recordings in 1960.  Tampa Red is best known as a blues guitarist with a distinctive single-string slide style. His songwriting and bottleneck technique influenced other leading Chicago blues guitarists, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, and many others, including Elmore James and Mose Allison. He became an alcoholic after his wife died in 1953. He died destitute in Chicago, aged 77, on March 19, 1981.

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