Daddy Stovepipe

Daddy Stovepipe

Daddy Stovepipe was the second self-accompanied bluesman to record; singer, guitarist and harmonica player, he was born in Mobile, Alabama.

Daddy Stovepipe (April 12, 1867 – November 1, 1963) is the name that Johnny Watson used for the most of his recordings; although he also recorded under names Jimmy Watson, Sunny Jim and Reverend Alfred Pitts.

He began his career in 1900 in Mexico (yes) as a twelve-string guitarist in early mariachi bands (yes again). Later he toured around southern states with the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels (The Foots), the minstrel and travelling vaudeville show established by entrepreneur Pat Chappelle in 1900 where other artists as Ma Rainey, Jim Jackson, o Jaybird Coleman took part in.

Later on the 1920’s, Watson moved to Chicago where he used to work as a one-man band on famous birthplace of Chicago Blues, in Maxwell Street. It was there where he got the name Daddy Stovepippe due to the hat he used to wear.

Daddy Stovepipe in Maxwell Street, Chicago

But it was not in Chicago but in Richmond, Indiana, where he made his first recording. The song Sundown Blues (1924) regarded as one of the most primitive blues recordings. Then in 1927 he would record in Birmingham, Alabama, with Whistlin’ Pete (nothing else is known about him) the duet Sunny Jim & Whistlin’ Joe for Gennett Records — the record label founded in Richmond, Indiana in 1917 — in Gennett’s mobile unit.

A few years later, in 1931, he was recorded in Chicago by the ARC mobile unit for Vocalion Records, the company founded in 1916 in NYC. Recordings were jug band duets with his wife, Sarah Watson, better known as Mississippi Sarah. They would record again in 1935 in Greenville, Mississippi, this time for Bluebird Records — sub-label of RCA Records created in 1932. The duet was well welcome because of his animated humor but unfortunately the lively duet would finish due to Sarah’s death in 1937. After this Watson then played in zydeco and cajun bands in Louisiana and Texas, and with Mexican mariachi bands again.

11 years later, in 1948, Watson returned to Maxwell Street in Chicago. There, in 1960, he would record again more songs including traditional popular songs as Monkey and the Baboon (Lonnie Johnson), or Tennessee Waltz (better known by multimillion seller cover by Patti Page, 1950.)

Watson, one the most long-lived bluesman, died in Chicago 3 years later in 1963, aged 93, from a bronchial pneumonia after a gall bladder operation.

Daddy Stovepipe's headstone

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