Riley Puckett died 65 years ago today.
Born in 1894 in Alpharetta, just north of what’s now Greater Atlanta, he and Gid Tanner (as I write in Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes)...
"would come together in what their advertisements called the 'Rip Roarin’, Snortin’, Burn ’Em Up String Band', Gid Tanner & His Skillet-Lickers. Riley Puckett would be their blind lead guitarist.
They would get on record before any downhome blues, and attract black listeners too. Puckett would also record an instrumental version of the traditional ‘John Henry’ under the title ‘The Darkey’s Wail’, prefacing this by saying: 'I’m gonna play for you this time a little piece which an old southern darkey I heard play, coming’ down Decatur Street the other day, ’cause his good girl done throwed him down.' It’s pleasant to imagine that the 'darkey' was Willie [McTell], and that these two blind guitarists passed each other on the Atlanta street. McTell was not 'old' but young when Puckett made his record in April 1927 - six months before McTell’s first session - but of course Riley Puckett wouldn’t have been able to see that.
(It’s also been imagined that these two would have met up at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon, and it’s true that both men attended it - but Puckett was there from the age of seven until he was about 12, which is to say 1901 to about 1906, whereas Willie didn’t reach the Macon Academy until the early 1920s. Even if they had attended concurrently, they wouldn’t have met: blacks and whites were in separate buildings, on different streets.)"