Shorty once won the Gong Show by standing on his head while playing his guitar.
  • Shorty once won the Gong Show by standing on his head while playing his guitar.
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David William Kearney, from Houston, tells many entertaining stories about music-industry luminaries such as Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy and Guitar Slim, and for all I know, they’re true. Even though his own star never burned as brightly, Kearney’s influence on blues-rock can’t be denied. For decades he covered the road driving a burgundy panel van with lettering on the sides that spelled out his stage name in cursive, like the way he’d maybe sign a check: Guitar Shorty.


Guitar Shorty at Dutch Mason Blues Festival at Dutch Mason Blues Festival

He comes from that era when the competition among black bluesmen was so thick that it wasn’t enough to just stand up and play great music. No, one had to be entertaining, and to that end Shorty perfected the art of doing standing backflips — all the while singing and playing nasty guitar leads somewhere between B.B. King and John Lee Hooker.

The melodious gymnastics made an impression on a young soldier named James. Shorty, I think, dated the soldier’s stepsister for a time in Seattle during the 1960s. Her name is Marsha Hendrix. Years later, after James became Jimi the arena headliner, his own show was similarly festooned with extravagant costumes and stage gags like the burning guitar. No cartwheels, but Jimi certainly came with his head full of Shorty’s guitar licks, which in turn were on loan from just about every other blues guitar player going back to shotgun shacks and Delta dirt.

Past Event

Guitar Shorty

  • Friday, May 6, 2016, 8 p.m.
  • Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach
  • 21+

Blues is a specific language, meant to be passed down, and in the re-telling of it, a guitar player develops his or her own voice as per tradition. Shorty, who once won the Gong Show by standing on his head while playing his guitar, does not do backflips anymore — he’ll turn 77 this year — but the Ray Charles band veteran can still stab you right through the heart with a single note. Do your own summersaults.

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