Blues Musician. One of the most popular country bluesmen of the late 1920s, he recorded under the pseudonym Barbecue Bob. Hicks was born in Walnut Grove, Georgia, and raised in neighboring Newton County. As children he and his brother Charley were taught guitar by Savannah "Dip" Weaver and were befriended by her son, future blues great Curley Weaver. Around 1922 the Hicks brothers moved to Atlanta to busk and play at parties, forming the center of a close-knit group of musicians that later included Weaver, harmonica wizard Eddie Mapp, and guitarist-harmonicist Buddy Moss. In 1927, Columbia Records talent scout Dan Hornsby discovered Hicks at Tidwell's Barbecue Place just north of Atlanta, where he worked as a pitmaster and waiter when he wasn't entertaining the patrons with his songs. One of them, "Barbecue Blues", marked his Columbia debut single, recorded in Atlanta on March 25, 1927. Hornsby successfully promoted it by renaming Hicks "Barbecue Bob" and having him photographed on the job wearing a full-length cook's apron and hat. Although he agreed to the gimmick to get a record deal, he was quick to assert his true identity. Towards the end of his next and biggest hit, "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues" (1927), he proclaims, "Robert Hicks is singin'". It established him as Columbia's No. 1 rural blues artist and he went on to cut 68 sides for the label through 1930, mostly blues interspersed with traditional and spiritual songs. They include "Poor Boy a Long Ways from Home", "Fo' Day Creep", "Goin' Up the Country", "Motherless Chile Blues", "It Won't Be Long Now" (a two-part duet with Charley Hicks), "Chocolate to the Bone", and "We Sure Got Hard Times Now". He sang them with a strong, clear voice that complimented the clawhammer strumming (with bottleneck slides) of his 12-string Stella guitar. Hicks also arranged for the recording debuts of Charley, Weaver, Mapp, and Moss; his brother used the name Charley Lincoln and had a hit of his own with "Jealous Hearted Blues" (1927). They all got together for a side project band called the Georgia Cotton Pickers and in December 1930 cut a handful of tracks for the Atlanta-based QRS label. This proved to be Hicks' final session; the Depression was crippling the record industry, the "race record" market in particular. Ten months later he died from complications of tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia at 29. His body was brought back to Walnut Grove and laid to rest to the strains of his recording of "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues". The fates of the bluesmen in his circle were mostly tragic. Just three weeks after Hicks' burial Eddie Mapp was stabbed to death on an Atlanta steet corner. Buddy Moss was sent up for killing his wife in 1935, and while he was paroled in 1941 his once-promising career never recovered. Fame eluded the unsung Curley Weaver, though he went on to play admirably with Blind Willie McTell for over 20 years before going blind himself. As for Charley Hicks, he faded into obscurity until the 1950s, when he started racking up a record for violent crime. He was convicted of murder in 1955 and died eight years later in a Cairo, Georgia prison. Robert Hicks and Willie McTell were the leaders of the Atlanta blues scene in its early years. McTell was the finer guitarist, but Hicks sold a lot more records and was primarily responsible for bringing the Atlanta sound to a wide audience. Several of his songs became standards. Eric Clapton powerfully covered "Motherless Chile Blues" on his album "From the Cradle" (1994).
Bio by: Bobb Edwards