Buddy Moss, a contemporary of Blind Willie McTell’s, is not as well-remembered today as McTell, but among many blues scholars, he is considered the most influential Southern blues guitarist of the early 1930’s. His music deserves to be heard, and he is beginning to be rediscovered. Listen to the video below to hear him for yourself.
Moss was born in Jewel, a tiny town located between Atlanta and Augusta, sometime in the early 1900’s. The family moved to Augusta when he was 4. He taught himself harmonica at an early age and was playing at parties before he reached his teens. By his teen years, he had begun busking on the streets of Augusta. At 16, he had made the move to Atlanta, working with Atlanta blues musicians Curley Weaver and Robert “Barbecue Bob” Hicks as a member of the Georgia Cotton Pickers. He began to teach himself guitar, and by the time he debuted as a performer in his own right three years later, he was already recgonized as a proficient and innovative blues guitarist, often playing around Atlanta with Blind Willie McTell.
From 1933 until 1935, Moss recorded on a number of labels simultaneously and sold well enough to make what was, for those days, a decent living. But then, in 1935, he was convicted of murdering his wife, on very flimsy evidence, and sent to jail for life. Due to determined attempts to clear him and his own good behavior, he was released on parole in 1941. As part of the agreement he was performing at Elon College when he met Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry and began recording with them.
But there was a serious restriction on the use of shellac for recordings during World War II, and that seemed likely to spell the end of Moss’s recording career. He continued to perform around Georgia, North Carolina, and Virgina throughout the war and, by the early 1950’s, was back in Atlanta performing around town, but could no longer make a living with his music, so he worked on a tobacco farm and as an elevator operator to support himself.
Moss was mostly forgotten until the 1960’s, when his association with Josh White led to his rediscovery by folk and blues music fans. He began performing on college campuses under the auspices of the Atlanta Folk Music Festival. Moss even played the Newport Folk Festival in 1969. He died in 1984, and though he has never reached the heights of recognition of Blind Willie McTell and others of his contemporaries, he is once again becoming known among blues circles with the release of his material on the Biograph and Document record labels.
Moss’s music, including songs from his album, Atlanta Blues Legend, released in 1967, are available on iTunes and at Amazon.com. Give him a listen.