There are hundreds of great blues/rock artists around, but if you want the real deal, the man who inspired everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Buddy Guy, you must check out Guitar Shorty. At 71 years of age, the Texan born legend shows no signs of slowing down. Born as David William Kearney, ‘Shorty’ has been electrifying rock halls and blues bars, across the nation, since he was just 17 years old. In 1957, Blues legend Willie Dixon, who was in the audience for a show by Guitar Shorty, was so impressed with Shorty’s blazing guitar style, and his ability to “electrify” the audience, that he demanded that he take him into his Chicago studio and record him. The result from that session was Guitar Shorty’s first single, “Irma Lee” b/w “You Don’t Treat Me Right,” for Cobra Records.
Soon after, Shorty found himself as the featured guitar player in the Ray Charles band. During this time, Shorty took his high energy performance to another level, by doing back flips, during his live performances. Shorty relocated to New Orleans, during this time period, and soon after, the highly in-demand guitarist was recruited by Sam Cooke, to be in his backing band.
In 1962, Shorty moved to Seattle, and started dating Marsha Hendrix, who was the step-sister of Jimi Hendrix. During a Hendrix family re-union years later, according to Shorty, Jimi had admitted to borrowing some of Shorty’s guitar “tricks.” Shorty approved, and told Hendrix “take whatever you want. ”
During the next couple of decades, Shorty struggled to achieve the notoriety that he deserved. Because of this, Shorty had to pick up additional jobs. He started driving tractor trailers, and working as an auto mechanic, to earn extra money to survive. And he even appeared on the hit TV program, “The Gong Show,” in the 70’s, and won top prize for playing guitar, while standing on his head.
In the 90’s, Shorty’s career started getting back on track. But it wasn’t until 2004, when he was signed to Alligator Records, that Shorty started receiving all of the accolades that he deserved. Since then, Guitar Shorty has released three brilliant, hard hitting records, that rival any other Blues/Rock artists on the planet.
What follows is an exclusive interview with the music legend, Guitar Shorty. During this interview, Shorty proved to be one the nicest musicians that I’ve ever interviewed. I hope you enjoy reading this, as much as I enjoyed the conversation.
RockMusicStar: It’s great to finally talk to you. I’ve really enjoyed your last three CDs on Alligator Records. I saw you in Buffalo a few years back, and I was in complete awe of your show. Your performances are very high energy. How are you able to continue to do that at your age, and how exhausted are you after you play a show?
Guitar Shorty: My guys look at me, and ask me how I do it. I drive most of the way, then I get onstage. And when I’m on stage, I don’t want to leave the stage.
RMS: You drive the band to the gigs ?
GS: Yes, I do. We have a trailer attached to the van, but sometimes they help me. But most of the time, I drive because I’m used to driving rigs. And with the trailer, I’m a little more experienced in doing that. But, I’m thinking about cutting back a bit, and getting someone to do it for me. Someone that I can really trust.
RMS: Have you been approached to do a package tour? I really think that if you hooked up with Buddy Guy, and maybe someone like Kenny Wayne Sheppard, that it would be a really successful tour.
GS: I’m glad you said that. I’ve been trying and trying and trying, to get something like that together. A lot of my friends are on tours like that. But for some reason, I have never been able to make it. And I don’t know why.
RMS: Do you think that it’s because your performances are so intense and that other artist may be intimidated by that?
GS: Well, that’s what a lot of my fans tell me. But I’m not looking at it that way. I look at it as a good pr thing for me. It would help push my career further out there. But, I can’t get on a show with anybody . It would be a blessing if I could get on a tour package. I’ve also been trying to get on Crossroads, but no one has asked me.
RMS: That’s really unbelievable. You’re such an incredible performer. I’m sure that when my readers check out your website, and listen to your music, they are all going to be blown away.
GS: Thank you. Yeah, I’m still trying.
RMS : Do you still find it necessary to practice your guitar a lot, in order to keep your chops up?
GS: I really don’t have to, but I do it every day . Everyone that plays an instrument should practice. You should practice your scales, minor, major. That’s what I do when I practice. It really makes a difference.
RMS: I’m surprised to find out that you have never released a live album. You are known for your amazing live performances. Don’t you think that it should be captured, at least once?
GS: Yes, I’ve been trying to do that too. I know that eventually it’s going to happen. Everybody tells me that I should do a live recording. Everyone I know in show business has done one. Aretha Franklin has done one. BB King, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix – they have all released at least one live recording. I haven’t done one yet. And I’m ready. All my label has to say is, “Let’s go Shorty,” and I’ll do one.
RMS: You are currently on Alligator Records, what do you like most about that label?
GS: It is the best label that I’ve ever been on in my life. They are very close to me. It’s much more than just a record company. I love the team over there. They are a helluva team. They can give an artist a real push, and get their records all over the world. I’m very grateful that they help my career. They took me to another level. And I think that I can go even higher, if I’m put in the right place. I just hope that it’s not too late for me.
RMS: Well Mr. Shorty, you have all the tools to get the job done. You are an absolute incredible guitarist, a great vocalist, and you put on an electrifying live performance. You just need that Blues package tour, and a kick ass live CD.
GS: Yeah, thank you. They could put me with Rock bands as well. Because my last three records have a real Rock edge to them.
RMS: Yeah, you were a big influence on many guitarist.
GS: Yeah, a lot of the guitar players that I see on TV, I watch them, and think haha, I know where they got that from. A lot of them come to my gigs, to check out what I’m doing, and they try it themselves. And I’m proud of that. At least I’m leaving some sort of legacy behind.
RMS : You are notorious for inspiring Jimi Hendrix. Tell us a bit about that, and what Jimi was like, as a person.
GS: Jimi was one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met. He wasn’t rowdy, and when he spoke, it made sense. He never bragged about anything. He was just Jimi. When I was with his step sister, she kept on telling me, over and over, “You got to meet my brother.” I said “Ok,” but she never told me his name. So the one time he was off the road, he came in for a family reunion, and it was Jimi Hendrix. And he goes up to me and says, “Hey Shorty.” His step sister looked at us, and was surprised that we already knew of each other. But on that evening, I got a chance to really talk with him. But before that, I met him in New York…years back. But he did tell me, that I was the most amazing guitar player, that he had ever seen, in his whole life. And he said that he borrowed some things from me, and asked if it was ok. I told him that I didn’t mind. He then hugged me, and said welcome to the family. I have to take my hat off to him. He took all of his talent and did something with it. I hate that we lost him. And to be honest, I dream of him a lot.
RMS: Do you feel that he was the greatest guitar ever?
GS: He was a helluva guitar player. He was super creative. I don’t think any one will ever be able to take his place. He was the greatest ever. People are still trying to play like him.
RMS : You should play on the “Experience Hendrix” tour. You would be a perfect fit.
GS: I would love to. I would like to do a tribute CD to him, and play his original songs, and play them even better. Because back in those days, when he was playing, that was my style. I changed my style a bit since then. But I can still play his stuff just like he did.
RMS: That would be awesome. Another guitar great that you influenced was Buddy Guy. Tell us a bit about him.
GS: Do you remember Willie Dixon?
RMS: I have read about him, and listened to some of his music over the years.
GS: Well, Willie Dixon was the first man to take me into the studio. I didn’t know anything about a studio. He had taught me how to sing the material that I wrote. He taught Buddy Guy the same thing. Willie told me right before he died, that Buddy was always complaining about what he needed to do, in order to entertain the people, because he couldn’t get the people to move. He told Buddy, remember that boy that I recorded with in Chicago. That boy would turn the guitar around, and play it all over. That’s what you have to do or just hang it up. So he was talking about me, and my show. So Buddy started doing that, and is still doing it. And he’s bigger than me. But, Buddy and I worked together, at his club last year. And we have always been good friends. But I haven’t had a chance to get on tour with him.
For more on Guitar Shorty check out www.guitarshorty.com