Both Guitar Shorty Guitarists Are Down Now — R.I.P.
Guitar Shorty — David William Kearney (1934–1922)
Born in either Florida or Texas, Kearney mostly grew up in Kissimmee, Florida. He learned guitar at a young age, pulled together a band and by age16 he became well-liked as a guitar player. One day he showed up for a gig in Tampa Bay and discovered the marquee included his new name: The Walter Johnson Band Featuring Guitar Shorty. From that day forward a bit of fame followed him everywhere he went.
Travel he did, with some of the greatest musicians in the world. He followed the Johnson’s band by joining the Ray Charles Band. Willie Dixon found him and recorded him in 1957. He eventually formed his own New Orleans band and would often perform with special guests like T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, Guitar Slim and Little Richard. He also toured with Sam Cooke. He married the step-sister of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix credits Shorty with teaching him how to master stage performance and many tricks on guitar. For this alone, Shorty should be in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame!
Guitar Shorty — John Henry Fortescue (1923–1976)
Born January 24, 1923 in Belhaven, North Carolina, Fortescue evolved into not only an amazing blues guitarist and performer, but also a tremendous musical story teller. He passed away on May 26, 1976 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
In the early 1970s, a one-of-a-kind artist lived near Elm City — the blues guitarist, singer, and musical storyteller John Henry Fortescue. Known as Guitar Shorty, Fortescue — who was originally from Belhaven, also the hometown of Little Eva of “Loco-Motion” fame — was a small man who played a big guitar spangled with flower decals. The performances he recorded in his brief life are inventive — sincere and comic, sacred and bawdy — sometimes all at the same time. His music is so hard to classify that were he living today, he might be identified first as a performance artist, and then a blues musician.
He had an assertive style that was heavy on boogie beats, and often used a bottleneck slide. Some of his recorded performances were on-the-spot improvisations, elaborate stories supported by his guitar backup in much the same way a soundtrack supports the plot of a movie. Shorty’s song-stories sometimes incorporate conversations between two and three characters — including himself, his mother, his wife, a determined would-be girlfriend, animals, and FBI agents. He performed all the voices, in addition to singing, whistling, imitating harmonica lines, and producing sound effects.