Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 28 Oct. '36, Biloxi MS; d 1 Jan. '95) Singer, guitarist, songwriter. Defies category, singing gospel/soul infl. material, originals, songs like 'Blowin' In The Wind', 'Green Green Grass Of Home', Johnny Horton's 'North To Alaska' so that they become his own, like hearing them for the first time. Self-taught on guitar from age nine; inspired at age twelve by Red Foley's 'Peace In The Valley' and by Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers; his mother was an alcoholic prostitute and he ate out of garbage cans. He first performed at 13 in a reform school. Intended to go East after a spell in a Mississippi prison, but drifted to Florida, Chicago; to West Coast '66, became a busker on Venice Beach at LA's Thornton Avenue. Recorded for Dolphins of Hollywood, heard the single on the radio but never saw any money. First album Watch Your Step '71 on Rounder (it came out while he was in jail); then On The Boardwalk '85 on Windows on the World, with a tougher, more world-weary delivery and some backing musicians (though production did not distract), Happy Hour '86 on Rounder. He was championed by UK disc jockey Andy Kershaw (presenter of TV's Whistle Test), went to the UK Oct. '86 and found more appreciation than in the USA, lived in Yorkshire but returned to Venice Beach. I Love You Too '89 on PT in UK had 'truth, dignity and many a heart-tugging melody ... solid virtues which transcend fashion' (David Sinclair in The Times). He came back with The Next Hundred Years '94 on Geffen, but died of a stroke.