Tampa Red Biography

Hudson Woodbridge aka Whittaker, 8 January 1904, Smithville, Georgia, USA, d. 19 March 1981, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Tampa Red was raised in Tampa, Florida, by his grandmother Whittaker’s family, hence his nickname. By the time of his 1928 recording debut for Vocalion Records, he had developed the clear, precise bottleneck blues guitar style that earned him his billing, ‘The Guitar Wizard’. He teamed with Thomas A. Dorsey in Chicago in 1925, and they were soon popular, touring the black theatre circuit. ‘It’s Tight Like That’, recorded in late 1928, was a huge hit, fuelling the hokum craze. They recorded extensively, often in a double entendre vein, until 1932, when Dorsey finally moved over to gospel. Tampa also recorded with his Hokum Jug Band, featuring Frankie Jaxon, and alone, in which capacity he cut a number of exquisite guitar solos.

By 1934, when Tampa signed with Victor Records, he had ceased live work outside Chicago. He was with Victor for nearly 20 years, recording a great many titles. During the 30s, many of them were pop songs with his Chicago Five, often featuring his kazoo. Usually a live solo act, he worked on record with various piano players. He was also an accomplished pianist, in a style anticipating that of Big Maceo, who became his regular recording partner in 1941. In the late 40s, Tampa was still keeping up with trends, leading a recording band whose rhythmic force foreshadows the post-war Chicago sound. His wife Frances was his business manager, and ran their home as a lodging house and rehearsal centre for blues singers. Her death in the mid-50s had a devastating effect on Tampa, leading to excessive drinking and a mental collapse. In 1960, he recorded two under-produced solo albums for Bluesville, also making a few appearances. However, he had no real wish to make a comeback, and lived quietly with a woman friend, and from 1974 in a nursing home. In a career that ranged from accompanying Ma Rainey to being backed by Walter Horton, he was widely admired and imitated, most notably by Robert Nighthawk, and wrote many blues standards, including ‘Sweet Black Angel’, ‘Love Her With A Feeling’, ‘Don’t You Lie To Me’ and ‘It Hurts Me Too’ (covered, respectively, by B.B. King, Freddie King, Fats Domino and Elmore James, among others).

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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