Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup Biography

24 August 1905, Forest, Mississippi, USA, d. 28 March 1976, Nassawadox, Virginia, USA (1974 is also cited). During the 40s and early 50s Crudup was an important name in the blues field, his records selling particularly well in the south. For much of his early life Crudup worked in various rural occupations, not learning to play the guitar until he was 32. His teacher was one ‘Papa Harvey’, a local bluesman, and although Crudup’s guitar style never became adventurous, it formed an effective backdrop for his high, expressive voice. Allegedly, Crudup was playing on the sidewalk in Chicago when he was spotted by the music publisher and general ‘Mr Fixit’ for the blues in the Windy City, Lester Melrose. Like many others with his background, Big Boy’s first recordings were his most countrified; ‘If I Get Lucky’ and ‘Black Pony Blues’ were recorded in September 1941 and probably sold largely to the same group of resident and ex-patriot southerners who were buying records by Tommy McClennan and Sleepy John Estes.

During the next 12 years, Crudup recorded approximately 80 tracks for Victor Records’ Bluebird label, including songs that became blues standards. ‘Mean Old Frisco’ was later picked up by artists as diverse as Brownie McGhee (1946) and B.B. King (1959), and was one of the first blues recordings to feature an electric guitar. He recorded ‘Dust My Broom’ in 1949 and the following year moonlighted for the Trumpet label in Jackson, Mississippi, under the name ‘Elmer James’. Despite attempts to update his sound by the introduction of piano, harmonicas and saxophones, by 1954 Crudup’s heyday was over. When he was contracted to record an album of his hits for Fire in 1962, the project had to be delayed until the picking season was over, Crudup having given up music and gone back to working on the land. Two of Crudup’s compositions, ‘That’s All Right’ and ‘My Baby Left Me’ were recorded by Elvis Presley, who also sang his ‘I’m So Glad You’re Mine’, but it is not likely that Crudup benefited much from this.

A second career bloomed for Crudup with the interest in blues among the white audience in the mid-60s, beginning with an album for Bob Koester’s Delmark Records label. This prompted appearances at campuses and clubs in the USA and Crudup even journeyed to Europe - always encouraged to perform in a country style. It appears likely that, with his superior lyrics and wide cross-racial popularity, Crudup gave more to the blues than he ever received in return. His three sons George, James and Jonas recorded as the Malibus and later as the Crudup Brothers.

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

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