Peg Leg Howell 1888 1966
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Joshua Barnes Howell, known as Peg Leg Howell (March 5, 1888 – August 11, 1966), was an African-American blues singer and guitarist, who connected early country blues and the later 12-bar style.
Life and career
Howell was born on a farm in Eatonton, Georgia. He taught himself to play the guitar at the age of 21 and became skilled in pre-Piedmont fingerpicking and slide guitar techniques. He continued working on the farm until he was shot in a fight, as a result of which he lost his right leg and began working full-time as a musician. In 1923 he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and began playing on street corners. He also served time in prison for bootlegging liquor.
In 1926, Howell was heard playing on the streets of Atlanta and was recorded for the first time by Columbia Records,which released “New Prison Blues”, written while he was in prison; It was the first country blues record to be issued on the label. Over the next three years Columbia recorded him on several occasions, often accompanied by a small group, with Henry Williams on guitar and Eddie Anthony on fiddle. His recorded repertoire includes ballads, ragtime, and jazz, as well as blues.
Howell continued to play in the Atlanta area for several years. He also began selling bootleg liquor again. After the mid-1930s he performed only occasionally. In 1952, his left leg was removed as a result of complications of diabetes, and he was confined to a wheelchair. A single track by Howell was issued on The Country Blues in 1959. In 1963 he was “rediscovered” in dire poverty in Atlanta by the folklorist and field researcher George Mitchell and Roger Brown. They recorded Howell at the age of 75; the recordings were issued on LP by Testament Records, thirty-four years after his last recorded sessions. It was one of Mitchell’s first field-recording sessions in his long career.
Atlanta guitarist Peg Leg Howell was one of the first Bluesmen ever to make a ‘Race Record‘, and he was also re-discovered in the 60s when he recorded again. Joshua Barnes Howell of Eatonton GA lost a leg in an argument with a shotgun toting brother-in-law, and he turned to music when he found it hard to find work as a field hand. Playing and singing on the streets of Atlanta, Peg Leg spent some time in jail for bootlegging. When Columbia sent their field unit to Atlanta in 1926, they were pleased to bump into Peg Leg, and his ‘New Prison Blues’ was their first country Blues record. Guitarist Henry Williams and fiddle player Eddie Anthony would play on street corners with Peg Leg, and they often backed him on his records over the next few years.
The economic depression hit record sales after 1930, so Peg Leg and his band returned to their lives as a street singers. Williams was sent to jail for life and Anthony died in 1934 so, after serving more jail-time for bootlegging, Peg Leg gradually faded from the Atlanta scene. It was noted that he had his other leg amputated in 1952 as a result of diabetes. In 1963, Atlanta music historian George Mitchell located Peg Leg, and he arranged recording sessions in April of that year. The results released on the Testament label were not spectacular, as Peg Leg was 75 years old and in poor health, but they provide a good quality recording of a most original player before he passed away in 1966.
Howell died in Atlanta in 1966.
https://youtu.be/oc_FAVXFH5s?t=7 Broke and Hungry Blues
https://youtu.be/8wFrb2s1fvg?t=9 Hobo Blues PEG LEG HOWELL (1927) Georgia
https://youtu.be/EtzDZc_JBfg?t=8 Blues Guitar Legend Peg Leg Howell – Skin Game Blues (1963)
https://youtu.be/q5aj8E1AxKQ?t=45 New Prison Blues 1927
Peg-Leg Howell Discography
With his friend, the fiddler Eddie Anthony performing on some tracks, these recordings from the 20s include ‘New Prison Blues’ and a version of Tommy Johnson’s ‘Canned Heat Blues’.
COMPLETE RECORDINGS VOL.1