Papa George Lightfoot

b. Alexander Lightfoot, March 2, 1924 in Natchez, MS, d. November 28, 1971 in Natchez, MS, blues singer and harmonica player. A self-taught harmonica player, Papa Lightfoot first recorded in 1949 for Peacock Records as part of the Gondoliers vocal group. He had a sporadic recording career in New Orleans in the early 50s (and accompanied Champion Jack Dupree on the King label). The majority of his 50s recordings remained unreleased until Bob Hite, famed blues collector and lead singer with Canned Heat, persuaded Liberty Records to issue them in their 1968 Legendary Masters series. This resulted in Lightfoot being rediscovered in 1969 and recording for the Los Angeles-based Vault Records. He was unable to capitalize on this new-found fame: the following year he fell ill and in 1971 died from a heart attack in his home town.

Papa George Lightfoot Biography by by Bill Dahl

Thanks to a handful of terrific 1950s sides, the name of Papa Lightfoot was spoken in hushed and reverent tones by 1960s blues aficionados. Then, producer Steve LaVere tracked down the elusive harp master in Natchez, cutting an album for Vault in 1969 that announced to the world that Lightfoot was still wailing like a wildman on the mouth organ. Alas, his comeback was short-lived; he died in 1971 of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

Sessions for Peacock in 1949 (unissued), Sultan in 1950, and Aladdin in 1952 preceded an amazing 1954 date for Imperial in New Orleans that produced Lightfoot's "Mean Old Train," "Wine Women Whiskey" (comprising his lone single for the firm) and an astonishing "When the Saints Go Marching In." Lightfoot's habit of singing through his harp microphone further coarsened his already rough-hewn vocals, while his harp playing was simply shot through with endless invention. Singles for Savoy in 1955 and Excello the next year (the latter billed him as "Ole Sonny Boy") closed out Lightfoot's '50s recording activities, setting the stage for his regrettably brief comeback in 1969.