LP & CD
Biograph 12019 – Buddy Moss, “Rediscovery”
Georgia….. Georgia, the land of cotton-fields and Army bases and miserable red soil; where the economic status of a town may be gauged by the number of pawn shops on its main street. There are abandoned farms, or anything just too close, overrun with the kudzu vine and completely buried. Black and white men alike scrabbling to exist while shotgun houses and automobile graveyards make up the scenery. In the northern part of the state is the city of Atlanta. It is a curious mix of the sophisticated and the provincial, both in outlook and architecture with Atlanta Stadium , home of the Braves, and Falcons, overshadowing what is essentially the Atlanta black-section. A portion of Interstate 75 goes by the stadium, slashing the ghetto into two pieces; paralleling that piece of roadwork is Central Avenue, Atlanta’s great black way.
To the west of the highway, in half of a four-room one-story house lives Eugene “Buddy” Moss. The same Buddy Moss who recorded on some Columbia subsidiary labels for a good five years in the Thirties, as well as an unexpected role on some other sessions. This Buddy Moss was then considered one of the giants of the so-called East Coast group of blues singer/guitarists. Categorizing a music as personal as blues is difficult to do, but it has been noticed among guitarists from Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and Florida that finger-picking is quite common, coupled with a relatively complex usage of chords and strums. Unlike the harsh, plangent Mississippi delta sounds of Bukka White or Robert Johnson, the eastern areas seemed to favor an easier going style, an almost gentle sound that had a bit of ragtime influence to it. It is a kind of plaintive sound, but it is honest blues and not what could be called effete. On of the best of this kind still exists in Atlanta, not a new fact to the cognescenti in the blues field, but Moss seemingly has been ignored during the blues (recent) discovery (resuscitation) period and no records have been forthcoming.
Buddy was born in 1914 between Augusta and Atlanta in the town of Jewell. His father sharecropper in Hancock County and when Buddy was four years old, he moved to the Sand Hill section of Augusta. At a very young age Moss began playing the harmonica and this was to be his main instrument for some time; as a matter of fact, his first appearance on records was on harp. In 1928 he moved to Atlanta with his mother, and at the age of fourteen played his harmonica with Barbecue Bob (Robert Hicks), the Atlanta-based twelve-string guitarist. He was obviously adept, as he recorded with Bob and Curley Weaver as one of “The Georgia Cotton Pickers” in 1930. During his “tenure” with Barbecue Bob, Buddy picked up on the guitar – he’d mess with Bob’s at any opportunity and shortly taught himself to be more than just proficient!
As a guitarist, Buddy will admit to being strongly influenced by Texas artist Blind Lemon Jefferson (see Biograph BLP-12000 and -12015), and little known (biographically, that is) Arthur “Blind Blake” (see Biograph BLP-12003 and -12023). A few years ago, many in the blues field considered Buddy to be “another Blind Boy Fuller copier” due to stylistic similarities. This idea must now be discarded, for Fuller was only thirty-two when he died in 1941, and Buddy had never met him. [n.b. – Buddy’s recording career was early 30’s, while Fuller’s was late 30’s] From the similar style of Moss and Fuller, it would seem that the two above-mentioned singers to be [have] the [same] seminal influence, [namely] Blake. (Would that we knew more about this prolifically recorded but shadowy figure as a parenthetical note.) Moss had a pile of records in his former Parkway Drive apartment before the building burned – among them were Blake and Jefferson [and “Rambling” (Willard) Thomas!]. It is a shame they are lost as it would have been great to see what he collected, liked and considered important.
It was at the age of nineteen in 1933 that Buddy first recorded as a guitarist. Near the end of January, he made three sessions in New York. A few were solo sides, while others were with singer Ruth Willis or guitarists Fred McMullen or Curley Weaver. In addition to his sides issued on Banner, Melotone, Oriole, Perfect, and Romeo Records, he may also have seconded McMullen or Weaver on their sides done at the same time. He did play harmonica with those two on the sides by “The Georgia Browns” (as in [the] Godrich-Dixon blues and gospel records discography). 1933 was his busiest year, since he recorded again at the end of September in the city with (both) Weaver and Blind Willie McTell for five days of sessions. It would no doubt be a bit difficult to determine the second guitarists on those mixed sessions!
It seems that Moss was part of an Atlanta “group” of blues artists that included McTell, Weaver, and McMullen, as well as the brothers Hicks (Barbecue Bob, and Charlie Lincoln), Ruth Willis, Eddie Mapp, Peg Leg Howell and Eddie Anthony. It was a good town for blues as Buddy well remembers, with a strong coterie of guitarists, as well as a few harps and fiddlers (strangely, there was no [obviously] known piano tradition, save Piano Red). Buddy’s first sessions must have done fairly well, for he recorded by himself ten months later – two sessions that had sides issued on the same [ARC] subsidiary labels.
A year later in 1935, he made three more sessions for ARC and many of these were with his [new studio] friend Josh White on second guitar [and vice versa]. It was a good half-decade for Buddy, recording wise, but then things began to drop off*. He remembers the sojourns to New York to record, tells wild stories of traveling the Atlanta area, and the good music to be had then.
It is hard to pin-point the cause of Buddy’s lack of recording after that point – he blames it on the rise of popularity of the big bands. It could be that Columbia Records felt that they had enough with Blind Boy Fuller and didn’t want to bother with another of similar sound. It is odd that Moss’ last session was after Fuller’s death in 1941, for OKeh. On those October sessions were guitarist Brownie McGhee, Oh Red on washboard and Sonny Terry on harp – not Atlantans, and both Fuller associates. It could be that they were looking for a Fuller replacement and that Brownie got the nod, but it would be most interesting to hear the unissued sides from the session with Sonny Terry**. Columbia offered him a contract about then in a “take it or leave it” vein – Buddy left it and his justifiable self-pride resulted in no more further recordings and thus ended his [commercial] recording career of the 30’s.
Things just didn’t connect well musically after that – he claimed he moved to Richmond [actually, Elon College, NC] and then to the Raleigh-Durham area to work in the tobacco industry. He finally came back to Atlanta in 1951, which explains why he wasn’t present for the mammoth sessions for Regal Records in 1949*** (see Biograph 12008 and 12009) that included Curley Weaver and Blind Willie McTell and others [such as Frank Edwards, and Little David Wylie].
The interim was spent in Atlanta doing everything from truck driving to elevator operating. He’d play whenever work was available on week-ends, or when friends asked. It was in 1964 when Buddy began to resurface. A friend called and told him that Josh White was in town playing a concert at Emory College. He went over to see Josh, with whom he had recorded in 1935 – they got to talking and White missed his plane out, but a few white Atlantans (notably Chuck Perdue who is responsible for this recording session at the Washington [DC] Folklore Festival) became aware of him [and his still top-notch talent]. The next year, John Hammond met Buddy through some of these men and remembered him from his A&R days at OKeh. In May of 1966, John set up a [trial] session in Nashville for Buddy to be [potentially] released on Columbia****. Buddy played guitar or harp, often seconded by a young guitarist and friend, Jeff Espina – his first time in a studio in twenty-five years. Things happened slowly, gigs in the Atlanta area, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia – a Newport appearance and even one in New York in the summer of 1969 [at The Electric Circus].
And yet things have never “let go” the way they should have for one of such talent. The Columbia session was never released (ed. note; Biograph now has the session and plans to release it in the near future) for unknown reasons – possibly due to poor sales of their Son House LP. Maybe his lack of success is due to the absence of a [white] manager who cares and works for him, it’s hard to say from my vantage point. Whatever the reasons, this lack of publicity is shameful (and seems to be [the] continuing plight of black artists that has not been rectified since the’20’s (ed. note)).
I heard Buddy in the summer of 1969 in New York, and also at his house in Atlanta with Bruce Bastin and we interviewed him in some depth. I subtly hinted at the end of the interview that it would be a shame that Bruce, an Englishman, would not get to hear him play. “Oh, so that’s what you’re waiting for” he said as he pulled out his 1931 Gibson LG. Four songs then rolled out, each surpassing the other in beauty as he got warmed up and we were literally breathless after.
In Buddy’s words, “blues singers are ‘comin’ like hens teeth”, at least of the East Coast style (there are no doubt others alive who never recorded*****). He should be heard and these sides recorded in 1966 at the Washington Folklore Society concert are a good place to begin.
Pete Lowry (Peter B. Lowry) – 1969 (contributor – BLUES UNLIMITED)
In the spring of 1965, the Atlanta Folk Music Society was formed and Buddy took part in several concerts sponsored by that organization. Among the members of the society Buddy found new friends, as well as fans – Bill and Eleanor Hoffman, Bud Foote, Jeff Espina and Kay Cothran, to mention a few. Bill Hoffman and Bud Foote, in addition to being friends, also functioned as Buddy’s managers for a while and found him occasional jobs. We first met Buddy in June of 1965 in Atlanta. We were living in Fairfax, VA at the time and had gone down to Atlanta (my home town) to do a program for the Society. One evening while there, we were sitting around in Bill and Eleanor’s living room when in walked a big, handsome, smiling, genial man who sat down and played some of the finest blues we had heard in some time. That was Buddy.
It was a year before we managed to get together with Buddy again. We were both active in the folklore Society of Greater Washington and we arranged for Buddy to give a concert for the Society on June 10, 1966. It is from the Society’s recording of this concert that the selections on his record are taken… In looking back, Buddy says, “I wrote all of my own songs. Blind Blake’s style was what I liked best, but I’ve always tried to be myself”. We think that, both as a musician and as man, he pretty well succeeded.
CHUCK & NAN PERDUE
Personnel and songs –
EUGENE “BUDDY” MOSS – vo, hca, gtr
John Jackson (as “J.J.) – guitar+ @Washington (DC) Gaslight Auditorium
“I’m Sitting on Top of the World”+
“It Was in the Weary Hour (of) Night” (sic)
“I’ve Got to Keep to the Highway” (sic)”
“Come on Around to My House”+
“Step It Up and Go”+
“Everyday Seems Like Sunday”
“I’ve Got a Woman, Don’t Mean Me No Good”+
“Betty and Dupree”+
“Every Day, Every Day”+
* It is now common knowledge that Buddy went to jail in Northeast Georgia ca. ’36 for killing his girlfriend. To read the story of his eventual release from prison in ’41, go to RED RIVER BLUES by Bruce Bastin – University of Illinois Press (1986) pp. 126-128. I made no mention in the above… I may not yet have known!
** Today, one can hear them on JSP 7721 C (Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee box set) and Document 5125 (Buddy Moss – vol. 3).
*** Buddy was sort of indentured to J.B. Long in Elon College, NC in ‘41 – Fuller’s manager, looking for a replacement for his deceased star – managed to get Buddy released early, bribing two parole boards in the process, but with the codicil that he stay out of Georgia for a decade.
**** This did not happen. Biograph Records finally got the tapes and issued them, along with this LP, on BCD 139.
***** Which partially lead to Trix Records coming to life as I foolishly took up the gauntlet! Still missed Buddy, though. (see: O&S #8, #67).
My first paid gig!