Born: September 11, 1902 in Walnut Grove GA
Died: October 21, 1931 in Lithonia GA
Robert Hicks, a/k/a Barbecue Bob, is one of the unsung heroes of the Piedmont blues style. With the records that he made during the 1920s, Hicks played a twelve-string guitar like the big city boys, bringing the instrument's richness of sound to his traditional country-blues style. Although Hicks helped define the "Atlanta blues" sound that would become incorporated into the more expansive Piedmont blues style, he has seldom received the respect proffered followers like Curley Weaver, Buddy Moss, and Blind Willie McTell.
The Birth of Barbecue Bob
Robert Hicks was born in Walnut Grove, Georgia and learned to play the guitar from his brother Charlie, and Savannah "Dip" Weaver, the mother of his friend Curley Weaver. He started off playing a regular six-string guitar, but soon taught himself to play an acoustic twelve-string after moving to Atlanta in the early 1920s.
Hicks was working at Tidwell's Barbecue in the Buckhead area of Atlanta in 1926, cooking and playing for the customers, which often lead to requests that he play at parties. As Hicks' local popularity grew, he came to the attention of Columbia Records talent scout Dan Hornsby, who signed Hicks to a contract and dubbed him "Barbecue Bob."
Hornsby devised the "Barbecue Bob" name as a publicity stunt, posing Hicks for photos in his white chef's uniform, to go along with his first record, 1927's "Barbecue Blues." The song became a hit, prompting the label to bring Hicks to New York City to record a quick follow-up, "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues," along with seven other sides. Altogether, Hicks recorded over 60 songs in almost two-dozen sessions for the label.
The Georgia Cotton Pickers
Hicks frequently recorded with his brother Charlie, who was known as Laughing Charley Lincoln, and would later record several sides in 1930 with Buddy Moss and Curley Weaver as The Georgia Cotton Pickers. The three musicians recorded their take on traditional blues songs like the Mississippi Sheiks' "Sitting on Top of the World" (which they named "I'm On My Way Down Home") and Blind Blake's "Diddie Wa Diddie" (as "Diddle-Da-Diddle"). These sides are believed to be the last recorded by Barbecue Bob.
Catching the flu in the fall of 1931, the disease leading to pneumonia and eventually tuberculosis, which subsequently took Hicks' life in October at the young age of 29 years. Hicks' guitar technique borrowed heavily from the traditional clawhammer banjo playing style, and he was also known to play bottleneck slide on both the six-string and twelve-string guitar.
Unlike other country bluesmen of the era that would later be re-discovered during the 1960s, other than an Eric Clapton cover of Hicks' "Motherless Chile Blues," Barbecue Bob's talent has sadly been overlooked. Still, his work and records paved the way for many bluesmen that would follow.
Recommended Albums: Yazoo's Chocolate To The Bone offers up a tasty serving of 20 classic Barbecue Bob songs, including his best-known sides like "Motherless Chile Blues," "Barbecue Blues," and his collaboration with singer Nellie Florence, "Jacksonville Blues." Like most early-era blues collections, the album's sound is questionable, the recordings pulled from beat-up old 78rpm records.