GUITAR SHORTY BIOGRAPHY
There are two artists that go by the name ‘Guitar Shorty’. Both are blues artists and both of their biographies are below beginning with the more popular (electric guitar bluesman) David Kearney and then followed by the lesser known (acoustic guitar bluesman) John Henry Fortescue.
I. Guitar Shorty, born David Kearney on September 8, 1939, is an American blues guitarist. Due to both his musical talents and performing stage antics such as somersaults and back flips, he has been considered “among the leading live acts on the blues scene.”
Shorty was born in Houston, Texas but grew up mainly in Kissimmee, Florida where be began playing the guitar at an early age and began heading a band not long after. During his time in Tampa Bay, Florida, he received his nickname, Guitar Shorty, when it mysteriously showed up on the marquee of the club he was playing as The Walter Johnson Band featuring Guitar Shorty. He steadily began to garner accolades from his peers and, at the age of 16, he joined the Ray Charles Band for a year. He then recorded his first single in 1957, “You Don’t Treat Me Right”, under the direction of Willie Dixon when Dixon saw him playing with the Walter Johnson orchestra. Eventually, he would join Guitar Slim’s band and move to New Orleans, Louisiana.
While in New Orleans, Shorty also fronted his own band which played regularly at the Dew Drop Inn where he was joined by special guests such as T Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and Little Richard. Not one to stay in one place long, Shorty next moved to the west coast at 19 in order to play with Sam Cooke. He played up and down the west coast and Canada until he met his future wife, Marcia, in Seattle, Washington. His new wife turned out to be the half-sister of Jimi Hendrix, who attended several of Shorty’s gigs and possibly being influenced by Shorty. Jimi was so enthralled with Shorty’s playing, he attended several of Shorty’s gigs in the Seattle area. As Shorty’s popularity grew, he recorded three singles for the Los Angeles-based Pull Records label in 1959. In 1985, he released his first album On the Rampage on Olive Branch Records. Shorty soon got a record deal with New Orleans based Black Top Records. Topsy Turvy, his first on Black Top, came out in 1993. The album featured some fresh new songs as well as remakes of three classic numbers from his Pull days back in 1959. He released two more albums on Black Top in the 1990s. When Black Top folded in 1999, Shorty moved to Evidence Music, and released I Go Wild! in 2001. In 2002, he was featured on the Bo Diddley tribute album Hey Bo Diddley – A Tribute!, performing the song “Don’t Let It Go (Hold On To What You Got)”. He joined Alligator Records in 2004. His album that year, Watch Your Back and his 2006 album We the People both charted on the Billboard Top Blues Albums at numbers eleven and twelve, respectively. Billboard said of We The People, “it’s difficult to imagine that he ever tracks a better album than this one.” A new Alligator Records CD ‘ Bare Knuckles was released in March 2010. He was then based out of Harlingen Texas where he met an up and coming guitarist named Sal Gomez. He mentored the guitarist and brought him on with his road band from 2010 until 2012. Sal left a lasting impression on Guitar Shorty for some of the more modern techniques he applied with the standard playing of blues guitar. “He is a baaaaaaaaaad boy” was frequently said by Guitar Shorty at most of the shows Sal played. Guitar Shorty’s guitar is named Red.
The following years were both good and bad; to get by at one point even, Shorty made an appearance on Chuck Barris’ Gong Show, winning first prize for performing the song “They Call Me Guitar Shorty” while balanced on his head. Shorty and his wife eventually settled in Los Angeles, California. By the 1990s, Shorty started to record his own studio albums, starting with the UK-based JSP Records release My Way or the Highway in 1991, which won him a W.C. Handy Award and garnering him interest from labels in the United States. His 2004 album Watch Your Back and his 2006 album We the People have seen his best work yet with both charting on the Billboard magazine Top Blues Albums at numbers eleven and twelve, respectively.