Guitar Shorty

Right up the street from my teenage home was the home of a lady, who for several weeks in a row had a garage sale. Her children had moved out and no longer wanted many of their childhood belongings. I do not recall her name, but I think of her often as she, unbeknownst to her, provided me with a number of my prized musical possessions. In the late 1950s through the early 70s, her children collected a box load of records, mostly 45 rpm. The first time I walked to her sale, with my older and younger sisters, we were all carrying a dime each with hopes of finding a treasure. My sisters did not find anything they wanted, but I became enthralled with the box of old records sitting on the ground next to an old dusty chair. Before they walked home, I begged to have my sisters' coins and was so grateful that they increased my spending loot! Before going home, I purchased two 45s (for 25 cents having a nickel to spare). One record was Dee Clark and his big hit “Raindrops,” which I may have heard on the oldies radio station my uncle always had on, but I sure did not know it by name. The other was by an artist I did not know and had discovered that afternoon while sitting on the floor of my room with my little plastic record player turned on full blast. It was Guitar Shorty!

By the way, over the next several weeks, I went back to that house and procured several other recordings, thanks to the kind lady letting me work for my records by mowing her yard and hauling trash to the curb. I picked up Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain,” The Four Tops on the Motown label (that was extra cool as I had heard of the famous company but never saw that awesome label with the map on it!) and a Doo Wop group called The Five Keys.

I played that little 45 by Guitar Shorty at least a hundred times. I remember wondering what he must look like and what color his guitar was. I imagined it was red for some reason and that on the day of the recording, he was wearing a bright blue suit. His singing was really smooth and yet a little gritty to me, and when that guitar lick came around, I was often up on my feet playing air guitar right along with him. I have such special memories of that song. I often feel it was my introduction to more electric blues of the 70s (I had previously discovered some blues musicians of the earlier generation such as Muddy Waters, Sippy Wallace and BB King). Shorty was different. The sound seemed more clear and sharp as if it was recorded only yesterday. That was exciting to me. The realization that the blues was not a thing of the past, people were still playing the blues (remember, I was around 13 years old and didn’t get out much!).

Fast forward nearly 20 years when I was working here at NAMM and had become friends with musical director and multi-instrumentalist Moogstar. I had captured an interview with him and singer-songwriter Swamp Dogg back in 2014, and at the 2016 NAMM Show in Anaheim, Moogstar said he had a friend he wanted me to meet. It was Guitar Shorty! I was absolutely blown away! Honestly, it was a thrilling moment for me as I had played that poor 45 until it wore out and had seen his name spin around and around for years. Now, I got to shake his hand. 

Guitar Shorty is shy and quiet, and I am sure I overwhelmed him a little with my zillions of questions about that record. He smiled and told me everything I wanted to know. And to my great delight, he also agreed to an interview with me!

You may want to feel a little sorry for Guitar Shorty (Moogstar and Swamp Dogg just call him Shorty, but I prefer the much more formal full name!) because EVERY TIME I see him at the NAMM Show, I introduce him to whomever I am with by telling the whole story. He stands there quietly with his smile, and I sure hope taking in what a special musical gift he has given me.

Click here to watch a segment from Guitar Shorty’s 2016 NAMM Oral History interview.

Dan Del Fiorentino
Music Historian