The Atlanta Bluesmen: Buddy Moss

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    A talented harmonica player in his teens, Buddy Moss took up 6-string guitar after he moved to Atlanta in 1928 and began associating with Barbecue Bob, Charley Lincoln, and Curley Weaver. He advanced quickly on the instrument and within a few years was one of the Southeast’s foremost blues performers. By the mid 1930s, his output of 78s rivaled that of Blind Willie McTell, with whom he occasionally performed. But his time in the spotlight would be short-lived.

    Eugene “Buddy” Moss hailed from Jewell, Georgia, where he was born on January 26, 1914. When he was about four, his family moved to Augusta, where he learned to play harmonica. “Nobody was my influence,” Moss said. “I just kept hearing people, so I listen and I listen, and listen, and it finally come to me.” After moving to Atlanta, he soon befriended Curley Weaver and Barbecue Bob, whom he later credited as a major inspiration. Moss also absorbed influences from phonograph records by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and especially Blind Blake.

    At his recording debut in December 1930, the legendary Georgia Cotton Pickers sessions with Curley Weaver and Barbecue Bob, Moss played harmonica on all four tracks: “I’m on My Way Down Home,” “Diddle-Da-Diddle,” “She Looks So Good,” and “She’s Coming Back Some Cold Rainy Day.” By January 1933, when he travelled to New York City to record for the American Record Company, Moss had developed a strong singing voice and superb fingerstyle approach on guitar. Over a four-day period, he made a slew of excellent 78s that were issued on ARC, Banner, Oriole, Melotone, Perfect, Romeo, and Conqueror. On January 16th, he recorded songs under his own name – the unaccompanied “Daddy Don’t Care” and “Red River Blues,” and “Bye Bye Mama,” featuring Fred McMullen’s slide solos. The following day, Curley Weaver accompanied Moss on his songs “Cold Country Blues” and “Prowling Woman,” and Moss may have been one of the two guitarists on Ruth Willis’ “I’m Still Sloppy Drunk” and “Man of My Own.” On the 18th Moss cut two more selections under his name. Although played without a slide, Moss’ opening guitar figure for both “T.B.’s Killing Me” and “When I’m Dead and Gone” are direct predecessors of Elmore James’ famous “Dust My Broom” lick.

    On the final day of the sessions, January 19th, Moss cut four more songs credited to him, with slide support from Weaver or McMullen. Oddly, two of these songs – “Hard Time Blues” and “Hard Road Blues” – came out on Vocalion credited to “Jim Miller.” When Moss was done fronting these records, he switched to harmonica for seven songs with McMullen and Weaver. Four of these selections came out credited to The Georgia Browns, another was unissued, and “Next Door Man” b/w “Joker Man Blues” was credited to “Jim Miller.” For fans of blues harmonica, Moss’ wailing performances on the Georgia Browns instrumentals “Tampa Strut” and “Decatur Street 81” are a must-hear. He’s also the featured singer on the “Jim Miller” 78, while McMullen was the lead singer on the hokumy “Who Stole De Lock?” and “It Must Have Been Her.”

    Buddy Moss’ 78s from the January 1933 sessions sold well, and in September he was back in New York City for a week of sessions with Curley Weaver and Blind Willie McTell. Moss began with “Midnight Rambler,” recycling the pulsing multi-string lick he’d used to energize “T.B. Blues” and “Best Gal.” Over the course of six days, Moss recorded another dozen sides with Curley Weaver, playing without a slide, on second guitar. ARC credited these releases to “Buddy Moss and Partner.” The sessions’ standout track, “Can’t Use You No More,” clearly displays Blind Blake’s influence on Moss’ vocal and guitar styles. Moss’ “Travelin’ Blues” bore no relation to Blind Willie McTell’s masterwork of the same name, but “Broke Down Engine” was essentially a cover of McTell’s release from two years earlier. Upon the musicians’ return to Atlanta, Moss frequently played in the company of Curley Weaver and Blind Willie McTell.

    A testament to Buddy Moss’ ability to sell records, he was the only Atlanta bluesman to record in 1934. Once again recording for ARC in New York City, he cut 18 unaccompanied tracks between July 30 and August 11. These sessions showcase how stylistically eclectic Moss had become. The Blind Blake influence was immediately apparent in the expertly played “Tricks Ain’t Walking No More,” slower-paced “Too Dog Gone Jealous,” and string-bending “Shake It All Night Long.” On the mournful “Unkind Women,” “Misery Man Blues,” and “Some Lonesome Day,” Moss fired off lower-string solos that wouldn’t be out of place in the repertoires of Texas bluesmen Blind Lemon Jefferson and, years later, Lightnin’ Hopkins. Vocally and instrumentally, “Dough Rolling Papa” anticipated the 78s of Blind Boy Fuller, who had yet to record. The most enduring song from the sessions, “Oh Lordy Mama,” was soon covered by Curley Weaver and Bumble Bee Slim, who renamed it “Meet Me in the Bottom (Hey Lawdy Mama).” As “Hey Lawdy Mama,” this song has had a long, distinguished life, echoing through the repertoires of famous jazzmen, bluesmen, and rockers alike.

    For his final ARC sessions, Moss returned to New York City in August 1935. Josh White, a fine country blues performer originally from South Carolina, joined him in the studio. In all, Moss recorded seven issued 78s. He played solo on some songs, including his popular “Going to Your Funeral in a Vee Eight Ford,” while others featured Josh White’s accompaniment. Moss, in turn, played second guitar for White, who played spirituals that came out credited to “Joshua White (The Singing Christian).” Moss later reported that his usual pay of five dollars per side was raised to ten dollars for the 1935 session, regardless of his status as leader or sideman. In a 1972 interview with Valerie Wilmer, Moss said that his best songs “financially” were 1933’s “When I’m Dead and Gone” and 1935’s “Going to Your Funeral in a Vee Eight Ford.” Moss added, “I’d say that ’round in the ’30s, it was grand for me, but it was tough on other peoples.”

    Buddy Moss playing guitar in the Green County Convict Camp.

    Just as he was poised to become one of the Southeast’s most important bluesman, Moss was convicted of a major crime. Pete Lowry explains, “Roger Brown has seen official documentation of Moss having killed his girlfriend because he thought she was fooling around with another.” Moss served at least some of his time in the Green County Convict Camp: Jack Delano, a photographer for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, photographed him there in May or June 1941, playing guitar for a buck-dancing convict. During Moss’ incarceration, Blind Boy Fuller had become ARC’s preeminent bluesman, cutting dozens of 78s between July 1935 and March 1940.

    With the death of Blind Boy Fuller in 1941, J.B. Long, a record company talent scout who’d worked with Fuller, helped secure Moss’ release. According to Pete Lowry, “J.B. Long had to bribe two parole boards to get Buddy out of jail.” He went to work for Long at the city of Elon College, North Carolina, and through Long met Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. In October 1941, Moss attempted to resurrect his career, recording three OKeh 78s in New York City. His first song, the unaccompanied “You Need a Woman,” sounded slow-paced and world-weary. The record’s flip side, though, told another story. With Sonny Terry blowing harp and Robert Young playing washboard rhythm, “I’m Sittin’ Here Tonight” hints at what Blind Blake might have sounded like with a small blues band. “Little Angel Blues” featured Moss in a duet with Brownie McGhee on piano. The band track “Joy Rag” rocked, with Moss on guitar, McGhee on piano, and Oh Red and Robert Young providing washboard rhythm and Chick Webb-like percussion bursts. The musicians also accompanied Brownie McGee on several tracks, notably the jumping “Swing, Soldier, Swing.”

    Five weeks after this session, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. With it came a ban on most recordings, and Moss’ session work came to a halt. He was never able to regain the momentum he’d had in the 1930s. He played around Virginia and North Carolina during the 1940s. Pete Lowry points out that “the ‘stay out of Georgia’ codicil explains why Buddy Moss was not around when Regal was in town in 1949 recording old guys like Frank Edwards, Curley Weaver, Willie McTell, and the younger ‘Little David’ Wylie.” Moss returned to Atlanta in the early 1950s, where he occasionally teamed up with Curley Weaver. Mostly, though, he supported himself outside of music, working at various times as a farmer, truck driver, and elevator operator.

    Peter Lowry’s photo of Buddy Moss in the 1960s.

    The folk-blues revival of the early 1960s brought newfound fame and riches to ”rediscovered” prewar musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and Rev. Gary Davis. In the spring of 1963 George Mitchell found and recorded Buddy Moss in Atlanta. These tracks, released on the CD Buddy Moss: The George Mitchell Collection, reveal that Moss had retained much of his skill as a guitarist and singer, especially on “Hey Lawdy Mama” and “Cold Rainy Day.” On other songs, such as Blind Blake’s “That Will Never Happen No More,” he was less on target. The Atlanta Folk Music Society sponsored him in a series of concerts, and he recorded a session for Columbia Records, but this was not issued during his lifetime. Songs from his June 1966 concert in Washington, D.C., were issued on the Biograph LP Atlanta Blues Legend, and he appeared at the 1969 Newport Folk Festival.

    Over time, Moss acquired the reputation of being difficult to deal with. He continued to make concert appearances through the mid 1970s, playing an old Gibson guitar with a bar pickup across the soundhole. Buddy was recorded playing at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music, 1975-1978 (you can heard 22 of these tracks online at the Digital Library of Appalachia: http://www.aca-dla.org/). Moss also recorded three tunes for the Atlanta Historical Society’s “Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie” exhibit in 1977. When Valerie Wilmer asked him in the 1970s about his old colleagues, Moss responded, “I worked with Barbecue Bob and Curley Weaver, but practically all the old guys are dead. I was more or less a loner after they died – in fact, I’ve been a loner practically all my life.” Moss remained a guarded man until his death on October 19, 1984.

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    Thanks to Bruce Bastin, David Evans, and Sam Charters for their pioneering work researching Georgia blues, and especially to George Mitchell for permission to quote him in this article for my Archive and to Pete Lowry for showing me ways to make this article more accurate and for permission to use his photo. For more on Buddy Moss’ recordings, check out Stefan Wirz’s excellent illustrated discography: http://www.wirz.de/music/mossfrm.htm 

    The Atlanta Bluesmen continues here: Blind Willie McTell: His Life and Music

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    © 2010 Jas Obrecht. All rights reserved. This article may not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission.

     

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      One comment on “The Atlanta Bluesmen: Buddy Moss

      1. John Bondurant on said:

        Thank you for your article on Buddy Moss.

        The Berea College recordings of Buddy Moss can also be found at our digital collection Berea Digital.

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