Blues Musician. A pioneer "urban blues" guitarist, he did his best known work with pianist-singer Leroy Carr. Together they created a sound that helped define the genre until the early 1950s. As a soloist he recorded "Kokomo Blues" (1928), which Robert Johnson later adapted into the standard "Sweet Home Chicago". Francis Hillman Blackwell was born in Syracuse, South Carolina, of part Cherokee descent, and was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. A self-taught musician, he built his first guitar out of a cigar box. His grandmother nicknamed him "Scrapper" for his combative temperament. In the mid-1920s he did time for bootlegging (an experience he would recall in his original song "Penal Farm Blues") and occasionally played guitar in juke joints; by 1928 he had teamed up with Carr, who had a similar background. Their debut single for Vocalion Records, the historic "How Long How Long Blues" (1928), was the year's number one blues hit and made the Carr-Blackwell duo nationally famous. The spotlight naturally fell on the tall, engaging Carr, but Blackwell held his own as a performer. He instinctively conquered the problems of sound balance between guitar and piano, weaving around Carr's contributions with great Piedmont-style picking and good whiffs of jazz. Carr helped by leaning on his bass notes, allowing Blackwell to "sing" with his treble strings. They were among the very few blues artists to prosper during the Depression, touring extensively and recording 114 sides for Vocalion and other labels, including such classics as "Blues Before Sunrise", "When the Sun Goes Down", "Mean Mistreater Mama", "Prison Bound Blues", and "Hurry Down Blues". Fruitful as it was, the partnership was never easy. Blackwell resented being thought of as Carr's sideman and frequently fought over money and songwriting credits. From time to time he went off to record solo or do session work with Georgia Tom Dorsey and Black Bottom McPhail. In February 1935 he stormed out of what would be the duo's final recording session; Carr died two months later, leaving Blackwell devastated. After recording a heartfelt tribute song for Carr ("My Old Pal Blues", 1935) he gave up music for over 20 years, choosing the anonymity of a job in an asphalt factory. The first great blues revival of the late 1950s gradually coaxed him back into performing. He cut a series of tracks for private collectors and released a full-fledged LP, "Mr. Scrapper's Blues", in 1962. Blackwell had little time to enjoy its success. That October he was fatally shot in an alley outside his Indianapolis apartment; sources differ as to whether it was during a mugging or a brawl. The murder remains unsolved. His death came just as a new generation of blues and folk performers began to recognize his accomplishments. Among his fans was Bob Dylan, who observed, "There is a strong line in all our music that can be traced back directly to Scrapper Blackwell. He was a truly great musician who did deserve more than was ever given him".
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
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