Blind Boy Fuller

Blind North Carolinan blues singer/guitarist in the Piedmont tradition who recorded from the mid-1930s to the early '40s.

Fulton Allen, b. July 10, 1907 in Wadesboro, NC, d. February 13, 1941 in Durham, NC. One of a large family, Fuller learned to play the guitar as a child and had begun a life as a transient singer when he was blinded, either through disease or when lye water was thrown in his face. By the late 20s he was well known throughout North Carolina and Virginia, playing and singing at county fairs, tobacco farms and on street corners. At one time he worked with two other blind singers, Sonny Terry and Gary Davis. Among his most popular numbers were 'Rattlesnakin' Daddy', 'Jitterbug Rag' (on which he demonstrated his guitar technique) and the bawdy 'What's That Smells Like Fish?' (later adapted by Hot Tuna as 'Keep On Truckin'') and 'Get Your Yas Yas Out'. At one point in his career he was teamed with Brownie McGhee. In 1940 in Chicago, Fuller's style had become gloomy, as can be heard on 'When You Are Gone'. Hospitalized for a kidney operation, Fuller contracted blood poisoning and died on February 13, 1941.

One of the foremost exponents of the Piedmont blues style, there was a strong folk element in Fuller's work. The manner in which he absorbed and recreated stylistic patterns of other blues forms made him an important link between the earlier classic country blues and the later urbanized forms. Among the singers he influenced were Buddy Moss, Floyd Council, Ralph Willis and Richard Trice. (Shortly after Fuller's death Brownie McGhee was recorded under the name Blind Boy Fuller No. 2.)

Blind Boy Fuller Biography by Barry Lee Pearson

Unlike blues artists like Big Bill or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller could play in multiple styles: slide, ragtime, pop, and blues were all enhanced by his National steel guitar. Fuller worked with some fine sidemen, including Rev. Gary Davis, Sonny Terry, and washboard player Bull City Red. Initially discovered and promoted by Carolina entrepreneur H.B. Long, Fuller recorded for ARC and Decca. He also served as a conduit to recording sessions, steering fellow blues musicians to the studio.

In spite of Fuller's recorded output, most of his musical life was spent as a street musician and house party favorite, and he possessed the skills to reinterpret and cover the hits of other artists as well. In this sense, he was a synthesizer of styles, parallel in many ways to Robert Johnson, his contemporary who died three years earlier. Like Johnson, Fuller lived fast and died young in 1942, only 33 years old. Fuller was a fine, expressive vocalist and a masterful guitar player best remembered for his uptempo ragtime hits "Rag Mama Rag," "Trucking My Blues Away," and "Step It Up and Go." At the same time he was capable of deeper material, and his versions of "Lost Lover Blues" and "Mamie" are as deep as most Delta blues. Because of his popularity, he may have been overexposed on records, yet most of his songs remained close to tradition and much of his repertoire and style is kept alive by North Carolina and Virginia artists today.