Barbecue Bob & The Piedmont Blues

Barbecue and tobacco go together like tobacco and blues, and through the transitive property barbecue and blues go together just as well.  In fact, the history of blues music and barbecue are both intertwined with tobacco.  While pig pickings were a traditional harvest time tradition in the country, blues musicians crowded urban tobacco auction sites when the crop came in for sale.

In North Carolina, tobacco towns like Durham have a rich history of blues music centered around its tobacco industry.  North Carolina’s primary contribution to the blues, a style called the Piedmont Blues, was made famous by artists like Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee and the Reverend Gary Davis, as well as somewhat lesser know artists like John Dee Holeman, who still lives in Durham just blocks from the old tobacco district.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the blues industry created an artist who could capture the barbecue demographic.  Robert Hicks (1902-1931), better know by his recording name Barbecue Bob, was a Georgia native who worked at a barbecue restaurant in Atlanta at the time he was signed to Columbia Records.  The label decided that they could cash in on Hicks’ barbecue connection, and gave him his nickname. Barbecue Bob played in the Piedmont Blues style, bringing a country blues flair to his work. Barbecue Bob’s first single was, predictably, called “Barbecue Blues,” and sold a pace setting 15,000 copies.  The publicity photo (inset) of Barbecue Bob wearing a chef’s uniform proably didn’t hurt sales. How the song relates to barbecue, however, is anyone’s guess; it is certainly not an obvious lyrical connection.

Although there is no mention of slow cooking hogs, I still hope you enjoy the recording of the “Barbecue Blues” below. The song shows off Barbecue Bob’s terrific beyond-his-years voice, guitar picking skills and even lyrics (“I’m going to tell you now gal/like Gypsy told the Jew/If you don’t want me/it’s a cinch I don’t want you.”)  Now THAT’s the Jews blues.