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Scrapper Blackwell - Chicago Blues
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Scrapper Blackwell

Scrapper Blackwell (February 21, 1903 – October 7, 1962 he formed with ) was an American blues guitarist and singer. Best known as half of the guitar-piano duoLeroy Carr in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was an acoustic single-note picker in the Chicago blues and Piedmont blues style, with some critics noting that he veered towards jazz.

Biography

Blackwell was born Francis Hillman Blackwell in Syracuse, North Carolina as one of the 16 children of Payton and Elizabeth Blackwell. Part Cherokee, he grew up and spent most of his life in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father played the fiddle, but Blackwell was a self-taught guitarist, building his first guitar out of cigar boxes, wood and wire. He also learned the piano, occasionally playing professionally. By his teens, Blackwell was a part-time musician, traveling as far as Chicago. Known for being withdrawn and hard to work with, Blackwell established a rapport with pianist Leroy Carr, whom he met in Indianapolis in the mid-1920s and created a productive working relationship. Carr convinced Blackwell to record with him for the Vocalion label in 1928;[3] the result was "How Long, How Long Blues", the biggest blues hit of that year.

Blackwell also made solo recordings for Vocalion, including "Kokomo Blues" which was transformed into "Old Kokomo Blues" by Kokomo Arnold before being redone as "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson. Blackwell and Carr toured throughout the American Midwest and South between 1928 and 1935 as stars of the blues scene, recording over 100 sides. Well received numbers were "Prison Bound Blues" (1928), reportedly based on Carr's own stretch of time for bootlegging, "Mean Mistreater Mama" (1934) and "Blues Before Sunrise" (1934). The duo moved to St. Louis, Missouri in the early 1930s, but were back in Indianopolis when Carr died.

Blackwell made several solo excursions; a 1931 visit to Richmond, Indiana to record at Gennett studios is notable. Blackwell, unsatisfied with the lack of credit to his contributions with Carr was remedied by Vocalion's Mayo Williams after his 1931 breakaway. In all future recordings, Blackwell received equal credit along with Carr in terms of recording contracts and songwriting credits. Blackwell's last recording session with Carr was in February 1935 for the Bluebird label. The recording session ended bitterly, and both musicians left the studio mid-session and on bad terms, stemming from payment disputes. Two months later Blackwell received a phone call informing him of Carr's death due to heavy drinking and nephritis. Blackwell soon recorded a tribute to his musical partner of seven years ("My Old Pal Blues") before retiring from the music industry.

Blackwell returned to music in the late 1950s and was first recorded in June 1958 by Colin C. Pomroy (those recordings were released as late as 1967 on the Collector label). Soon afterwards he was recorded by Duncan P. Schiedt for Doug Dobell's 77 Records and Art Rosenbaum for the Prestige/Bluesville Records label.

He just appeared ready to restart his blues career when he was shot and killed during a mugging in an Indianapolis alley. He was 59 years old. Although the crime remains unsolved, police did arrest his neighbour at the time for the murder. Blackwell is buried in New Crown Cemetery, Indianapolis.

Key recording

  • The Virtuoso Guitar of Scrapper Blackwell (Yazoo Records) - accompaniments and duets with Carr intersperse lean solo blues by the sharpest guitarist of his day

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