Tampa Red


Tampa Red

Tampa Red was born Hudson Woodbridge but raised as Hudson Whittaker. He was a significant figure in American music from January 8, 1904, until his death on March 19, 1981.

To most people, Tampa Red is synonymous with the unusual single-string bottleneck style of blues guitar that made him so successful and influential. Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Mose Allison, and many more were all influenced by his songs and his silky, polished slide technique. Throughout his 30-year career, he also made records in the pop, R&B, and hokum genres.

Tamps Red

Hudson Woodbridge was born in the little Georgia town of Smithville. Since his parents passed away when he was young, he was raised by his aunt and grandmother in Tampa, Florida, and they took their last names. His older brother Eddie was a guitar player, and he looked up to him. However, it was a grizzled street performer named Piccolo Pete who first introduced him to the blues the instrument.

Although many excellent slide guitarists recorded blues, only a select few have truly made their mark on the genre by developing an instantly recognizable and frequently imitated instrumental style (such as Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson). Another musical role model was Tampa Red. In the 1920s and 1930s, he was known as “The Guitar Wizard,” and it’s easy to hear why after hearing his breathtaking slide technique on electric or National steel guitar. He recorded hundreds of tracks over the course of 30 years, including hokum, pop, jive, and blues. During the beginning of his career, Red worked with pianist, songwriter, and modern gospel composer Georgia Tom Dorsey on double entendre hits, including “Tight Like That.”

Tampa Red was marketed as “The Guitar Wizard” as early as the 1920s and as “The Man With The Gold Guitar” well into the 1930s. In 1928, Tampa Red bought the first National steel-bodied resonator guitar ever made. It was the loudest and maybe flashiest guitar that you could get before amplification. Because of this, he could perfect his signature bottleneck approach, mostly using single-string runs rather than block chords, paving the way for later blues and rock guitar soloing. The National Tricone he played was discovered in the 1990s in Illinois and eventually sold to the “Experience Music Project” in Seattle, where he played it.

Those who are only familiar with Tampa Red’s hokum songs are missing out on a more nuanced side of one of the Chicago blues’ staples. Big Bill Broonzy was one of his contemporaries and a close friend. Lester Melrose’s drinking pals and members of the musical mafia slept through a Chicago White Sox doubleheader once. Eventually, Red’s drinking habits caught up with him, and he began attributing his later health issues to his unwillingness to cut down.

During his prime, Red performed everywhere, from rural jukes and street corners to vaudeville theaters and Chicago nightclubs. While many of his musical contemporaries were limited in scope, he is often classified as a city musician or urban artist due to his polish and theater expertise. In addition, members of the blues community used his home as a rehearsal space and informal booking office. Broonzy and Big Joe Williams testified that Red helped out other musicians by providing them with a place to stay and food.

Modern audiences can appreciate Tampa Red’s soulful singing and be surprised by his kazoo solos. His music has endured, and any slide guitar student worth their salt should be familiar with Red.

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