Born: September 8, 1923 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Guitar Shorty was born David William Kearney on September 8, 1939 in Houston, Texas and raised in Kissimmee, Florida by his grandmother. He began playing guitar as a young boy, excited by the sounds of B.B. King, Guitar Slim, T-Bone Walker and Earl Hooker. After a move to Tampa when he was 17, Kearney won a slot as a featured guitarist and vocalist in Walter Johnson's 18-piece orchestra. Being younger-and shorter-than the rest of the band, the club owner bestowed the name Guitar Shorty on him, and it stuck. After a particularly strong performance in Florida, the great Willie Dixon, who was in the audience, approached Shorty about recording. A few weeks later Shorty was in Chicago and, backed by Otis Rush on second guitar, he cut his first single, Irma Lee b/w You Don't Treat Me Right, for Chicago's famed Cobra Records (the first label home for Rush, Magic Sam and Buddy Guy) in 1957.
After recording the Cobra single, Shorty's fortunes continued to rise, as the great Ray Charles hired the young guitar slinger as a featured member of his road band. While touring Florida, Shorty met one of his idols-guitarist/vocalist Guitar Slim, famous for his hit The Things That I Used To Do as well as for his wildman stage antics. Slim's manager offered Shorty the opening slot on the guitarist's upcoming tour, and Shorty jumped at the chance, following his hero to New Orleans. Inspired by Slim, Shorty began incorporating some of the older artist's athletic showmanship into his own performances. Before long, he was doing somersaults and flips on stage. Between his blistering talent and his wild stage shows, Guitar Shorty found his audience growing even larger. He recorded three 45s for the Los Angeles-based Pull Records label in 1959. Those six sides-all Guitar Shorty originals incorporating techniques learned from Willie Dixon-showcased his first-rate vocals and his dynamic guitar style.
He gigged steadily through the late 1950s and 1960s, working with Little Milton, B.B. King, Lowell Fulson, Sam Cooke, Otis Rush, Johnny Copeland and T-Bone Walker. Settling down in Seattle, he married Marsha Hendrix, Jimi's stepsister. Hendrix loved his guitar-playing brother-in-law, and confessed that in 1961 and 1962 he would go AWOL from his Army base in order to catch Shorty's area performances, picking up licks and ideas.
Guitar Shorty moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and worked as a mechanic during the day while playing gigs at night until 1975, when he again became a full-time musician. After overcoming a serious auto accident in 1984, he recorded an EP for Big J Records and a few more singles (this time for Olive Branch Records) in 1985, showcasing his fat-toned guitar licks and deep blues vocals. The strength of these recordings kept him busy on the club scene, and he eventually landed a British tour in 1990.
Guitar Shorty cut his debut album for the JSP label in 1990 while on tour in England. Released in 1991, My Way Or The Highway received the Blues Music Award for Contemporary Foreign Blues Album Of The Year and revitalized Shorty's career in the U.S. Then the New Orleans-based Black Top label signed him and released three albums (Topsy Turvy, Get Wise To Yourself and Roll Over, Baby) during the 1990s, and in 2001 Evidence Records issued I Go Wild. All received an abundance of positive press as he barnstormed his way across the U.S. and around the world.
After Watch Your Back for Alligator in 2004, Guitar Shorty's long rise to blues stardom grew exponentially. In 2006 he released We The People delivering a moving and soulful statement, featuring some of the most fire-coated fretwork he had ever laid down.
With his 2010 effort “Bare Knuckle,” Guitar Shorty unleashes the most awe-inspiring guitar and vocal work of his long career.
Source: James Nadal