Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup Biography
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, one of the most prominent blues recording artists of the 1940s, was born on his grandparents’ land in Forest on August 24, 1905. After Elvis Presley recorded three Crudup songs in the 1950s, Crudup became known as “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Despite the commercial success of his songs, Crudup was never fairly paid for the music he composed and recorded, and had to work as a laborer or bus driver to support his family. He died on March 28, 1974.
Crudup was one of America’s top-selling blues artists long before Elvis Presley, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and other pop stars began recording his songs. But like many other performers who had little education and little familiarity with the music business or copyright law, Crudup fell victim to exploitation. Only after his death did his heirs finally succeed in securing his copyrights and long-overdue royalties.
Crudup, who grew up singing spirituals, did not start playing guitar until he was in his thirties. In 1941, while playing on the streets in Chicago, he was offered a chance to record for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label. His unique sound and memorable lyrics caught on with record buyers, and he continued to record for RCA until 1954. His best known records included “Rock Me Mama,” “Mean Old ‘Frisco Blues,” and three that were covered by Presley: “That’s All Right,” “My Baby Left Me,” and “So Glad You’re Mine.” Crudup rarely played concerts or theaters until the blues revival of the 1960s, but he was a juke joint favorite in Mississippi, where he performed with Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, and locals such as George Lee, Odell Lay, and Clyde Lay. In Forest he played dance halls and cafes where both blacks and whites attended despite segregation policies of the time. He stacked lumber, picked cotton, and sold bootleg liquor, and finally started his own business transporting migrant workers between Florida and Virginia after he left Forest in the mid-1950s. He recorded in later years for the Fire and Delmark labels, but remained a working man who never depended on music to survive. His sons James, Jonas, and George formed their own band in Florida and later recorded a CD as the Crudup Brothers. A nephew, Robert Earl “Little Jr.” Crudup, also launched a performing career in Oakland, California, in the 1980s.
James “T-Model” Ford, another self-taught Forest musician, also took up guitar late in life (in his fifties). Ford, born June 20, 1924, was a laborer, logger, and truck driver before he became a bluesman in the Delta. In the 1990s his CDs on the Oxford-based Fat Possum label enabled him to start touring the country while maintaining a performing base at nightspots near his home in Greenville.
Another former Forest resident, Ruben Hughes, was honored with a resolution from the Mississippi Legislature in 2002 for his work in radio. Hughes, born Sept. 9, 1938, got his first job as a blues deejay on WMAG in Forest at the age of sixteen. He broadcast on several stations before he founded WGNL in Greenwood in 1987. Hughes recalled working with Arthur Crudup on a Forest poultry farm in the early 1950s.