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Bull City Red

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Bull City Red, whose real name was George Washington, is best known as a sometimes sideman on washboard to the likes of Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry, and Blind Gary Davis. He was a partial albino, and he came from Durham, North Carolina, a town best known for W.T. Blackwell's "Genuine Durham Smoking Tobacco," which carried a bull trademark image. The town earned the nickname of "Bull City," which became attached to guitarist/washboard man George Washington. He wasn't an especially gifted guitarist, his strongest skill being his ability to imitate Blind Boy Fuller. His strongest talent lay with the washboard, which he played extremely well, backing up any number of other players. Red led an otherwise blind group that included Fuller, Sonny Terry and, for a time, Blind Gary Davis as well, and with help from their manager, department store owner J.B. Long, landed a contract with Vocalion. At one point in their history, Red, Fuller, Terry, and guitarist Sonny Jones performed together as "Brother George and His Sanctified Singers," and made several recordings of gospel-themed material. Red was later responsible for hooking Terry up with Brownie McGhee, whom he met while on a trip to Burlington. McGhee was partnered with a blues harpist and one-man band named Jordan Webb at the time, and Red introduced the two to Fuller and Terry as well as their manager. Eventually a musical relationship developed between Terry and McGhee, and following Fuller's death during surgery in 1941, Long began recording McGhee with Webb, Terry, washboard man Robert Young (who had previously played with McGhee), and Red. He cut more than a dozen sides showing off his skills as a singer and guitarist as well as on the washboard, between 1935 and 1939. The material as such wasn't too impressive, at least as far as Red's guitar work, but his performance on washboard was lively and his singing most expressive. ~ Bruce Eder