Guitar Gabriel’s Toot Blues originally existed as a cassette in 1991. That same year, Tim Duffy discovered Gabe, one of the original Music Maker recipients, who served as a cornerstone to the organization’s provenance.
Gabe died in 1996 just as his music began gaining exposure.
Born in Atlanta in 1925 as Robert Lewis Jones, guitar Gabe moved with his family to North Carolina when he was five. Later he played guitar in the streets where he met blind Boy Fuller and Reverend Gary Davis. He played medicine shows that traveled through Atlanta, Nashville, Winston-Salem, New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Miami. Gabe also played blues festivals with musicians such as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Son House, Mance Lipscomb, and Lightning Hopkins.
Toot Blues (Gabe’s description of the music he played—a combination of Piedmont blues, Chicago blues, down-home, jump, second-time, and gospel) contains 9 songs showcasing the music of this blues troubadour. Recently Tim Duffy informed me of the landmark session: “Toot Blues was recorded when I just started in 1991. I recorded it in this little tin shack I called an office in my backyard with a really cheap microphone and a pretty good tape recorder. I just met Gabe, and we recorded that cassette. Toot Blues is a helluva record—it’s raw. The whole time I knew Gabe he was dying. He could’ve died at any moment, and it’s a miracle he lasted the four years I hung with him. In that tape, he hadn’t played guitar much in ten or fifteen years. On his next record he played better, and he got it back together again. Cool John Ferguson covers that whole record, toot blues. That CD is a limited edition. There’s only about 70 copies left.”
On this lucent album, Tim Duffy plays guitar; Luther Mayer assists on vocals, while Guitar Gabe’s guitar work and heartfelt voice captures the listener’s ear from the opening chord.
This collection once attracted international attention and contains original cassette artwork including a Chief Wahoo Medicine Oil label. The first song “Do You Know What It Means to Have a Friend?” commences this 35-minute CD on a spirited note that never wanders astray. This song conveys the peaceful spirit of Gabe, who once said: “When I make other people happy, then I am happy. About music, it keeps you out of violence. Blues is special because it takes a lot of animosity out of your heart. Like, if you have a misunderstanding. Instead of taking violence out with your fists, you can take it out on your music. If you get disheartened you can take the guitar and you can satisfy yourself. That takes all the evil thoughts away from you. That is what music is all about.”
Soulful versions of “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” and “Amazing Grace” reveal guitar Gabriel as a holy messenger. On the final track, a sad slow song “I Got A Right To Cry Sometimes”, the electric hum of Gabe’s amplifier lingers long after it fades.
- James Calemine