March 19, 1981 – Tampa Red aka Hudson Whittaker or Hudson Woodbridge was born on January 8th 1904 in Smithville, Georgia.
When his parents died he moved to his aunts in Tampa, Florida. He is best known as an accomplished and influential blues guitarist who had a unique single-string slide style. His songwriting and his silky, polished “bottleneck” technique later influenced other leading Chicago blues guitarists, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Mose Allison and many others.
In the 1920s, having already perfected his slide technique, he moved to Chicago, and began his career as a musician, adopting the name ‘Tampa Red’. His big break was being hired to accompany Ma Rainey and he began recording in 1928 with “It’s Tight Like That”, in a bawdy and humorous style that became known as “hokum”.
In a career spanning over 30 years he recorded pop, R&B and hokum records. His best known recordings include ‘Anna Lou Blues’, ‘Black Angel Blues’, ‘Crying Won’t Help You’, and ‘Love Her with a Feeling'”. By the 1940s he was playing electric guitar and in 1942 “Let Me Play With Your Poodle” was a No.4 ranking hit on Billboard’s new “Harlem Hit Parade”, forerunner of the R&B chart. In 1949 his recording “When Things Go Wrong with You (It Hurts Me Too)” was another R&B hit.
Out of the dozens of fine slide guitarists who recorded blues, only a handful — Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, for example — left a clear imprint on tradition by creating a recognizable and widely imitated instrumental style. Tampa Red was another influential musical model. During his heyday in the ’20s and ’30s, he was billed as “The Guitar Wizard,” and his stunning slide work on electric or National steel guitar shows why he earned the title. His 30-year recording career produced hundreds of sides: hokum, pop, and jive, but mostly blues (including classic compositions “Anna Lou Blues,” “Black Angel Blues,” “Crying Won’t Help You,” “It Hurts Me Too,” and “Love Her with a Feeling”). Early in Red’s career, he teamed up with pianist, songwriter, and latter-day gospel composer Georgia Tom Dorsey, collaborating on double-entendre classics like “Tight Like That.”
Listeners who only know Tampa Red’s hokum material are missing the deeper side of one of the mainstays of Chicago blues. His peers included Big Bill Broonzy, with whom he shared a special friendship. Members of Lester Melrose’s musical mafia and drinking buddies, they once managed to sleep through both games of a Chicago White Sox doubleheader. Sadly he became an alcoholic after his wife’s death in 1953 and he blamed his latter-day health problems on an inability to refuse a drink.
During Red’s prime however, his musical venues ran the gamut of blues institutions: down-home jukes, the streets, the vaudeville theater circuit, and the Chicago club scene. Due to his polish and theater experience, he is often described as a city musician or urban artist in contrast to many of his more limited musical contemporaries. Furthermore, his house served as the blues community’s rehearsal hall and an informal booking agency. According to the testimony of Broonzy and Big Joe Williams, Red cared for other musicians by offering them a meal and a place to stay and generally easing their transition from country to city life.
Tampa Red played a National Resonator Guitar, the loudest and showiest guitar available before amplification, acquiring one in the first year they were available.
He tragically died destitute in Chicago on March 19, 1981 at age 77.