Having recently obtained copies of the Leadbitter & Co. post-war discography, I will venture rather apprehensively into the discographical wars once more and hope that the snipers are kinder now. This time, though, I have more fact and less conjecture – personal contact will do that! Very specifically, on p. 304 it is indicated that Arthur Crudup’s last two sessions for RCA/Victor were recorded in Atlanta with local musicians. This may well have been set up through Zenas Sears, an important local disc jockey who had a hand in Little Richard recording for the same company, as well as aiding the careers of Billy Wright and Chuck Willis (among many others). [see O&S # 34] It is the 1954 session I would like to concentrate on, the one with a relative of Gladys Knight’s Pips on piano (Mr. Patton)! It mentions an unknown harmonica player being present… also it lists one Robert “Steamboat” Fulton on guitar. I made passing mention of him and his correct name in BU 100 (p.23), but haven’t written him up at all. He was evasive in most interview attempts, saying that he was writing his autobiography! Other than that, he was a wonderful person to be around.
Born some time in the twenties, Robert “Steamboat” Fulton was a well-known figure on the post-war blues scene in Atlanta and it is a pseudonym taken by one Robert/R. L. Lowe, probably the finest blues talent in the city in a modern vein. Lowe is a small, slightly elusive and secretive man, but one hell of a player and singer… a very unique musician. Playing rack-harmonica and guitar in ways that owe little-to-nothing to others (for he owns up to no influences, although Frank Edwards considers him to be sort of a successor), R.L. was once very much in the Black public eye. Formerly a familiar figure at The Royal Peacock on Auburn Ave, or leading the house band at The Lithonia Country Club, when last seen, he was living alone, playing and recording himself for himself on a 4-track ReVox reel-to-reel… overdubbing, and fooling around with the technology. Money earned from music in the past was put into buying property from which he has derived an income up to my last contact. Atlanta’s finest “recent” bluesman has lived in relatively comfortable obscurity since the 60s. I last saw him on my final, brief field-trip in 1980 and do not know if he is still alive.
So the listing under Crudup should be altered to read “Robert ‘Steamboat’ Fulton” (R.L. Lowe), g/hca. Also there are his own, unissued sessions that were recorded before Crudup’s date – these were under another pseudonym, “Country Boy” and can be found on p. 290. That listing should then be altered as well, with Lowe = “Country Boy”, vo/g/hca. He was never willing to record for me or anyone else, and his music is probably lost, but he was one-of-a-kind and very good indeed.
Venturing into another level of hornets’ nest, when I first interviewed B.B. King (O&S # 33, 56) in 1964 backstage at The Apollo Theatre (sadly, all my notes and references were stolen later that day), he told me that there were only a few recording sessions that he was on besides his own – his lack of confidence in his chording ability in the old days kept him from doing that. Those sessions were with “Sonny Boy Williamson” (Trumpet), Otis Spann (Checker), and Bobby Bland (Modern… I think he said the second one). He also told me that he took part in NONE of the Blues Boy Kingdom sessions, having given only his name (and presumably some money) to that enterprise. It was no more successful than his later Virgo label. So, let the brickbats fly… this time I’m ready for the abuse I seem to generate when I head into the discographical minefields. What happened to cooperation and dialogue, anyway? There’s so few of “us” doing any of this stuff as it is. C’est la bloody guerre, as an old friend used to say.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM # 126 – Feb 1998, p.9.
A bit of delving makes me correct that slightly. I did manage to take R.L. Lowe into a small studio and record four tunes; the following year, the studio and its owners had vanished without me mixing the tapes or taking them with me… my error. A case of NOT striking while the iron was hot! BUT, R.L. finally gave me a cassette of him playing, one side “straight”, one side “echo” that could probably be utilized with today’s technology on some anthology of Atlanta stuff. Damn, he was good. When I last saw him, he was loosing his eyesight and mainly staying at home, being aided by occasional friends he could call upon.
There are others who say that B. was on some of the Blues Boy Kingdom releases, but not according to what he told me in 1964. He HAS produced stuff since then; Lockwood mentioned some tapes done in Florida with jazz organist Eddie Baccus (to my mind, the Art Tatum of the jazz organ – and not just because he’s blind!)… do not who for or what happened to them.