Before Muddy (Waters), before Buddy (Guy), before even Howlin’ Wolf, there was a white kid from Chicago’s outer suburbs recording electric blues guitar in the Windy City. His name was George Barnes and he was almost certainly the second guitarist ever to record electric blues commercially. And judging from the number of instruction manuals he brought out in the early 40s, you could literally say he wrote the book on playing blues guitar.
George Barnes was just 16-years old when he recorded electric lead guitar for a host of black blues legends like Big Bill Broonzy, Curtis Jones, Washboard Sam, Jazz Gillum, Louis Powell, Blind John Davis, Merlene Johnson and Hattie Bolten in sessions during March 1938. Altogether, young George played on 33 seminal black blues recordings in Chicago that year.
On 1 March 1938, George played two electric guitar sessions for ‘It’s a Low-Down Dirty Shame’ and ‘Sweetheart Land’, one for Big Bill Broonzy and another for pianist Curtis Jones. Two weeks later, George Barnes played electric blues guitar and received a song-writing credit on ‘Reefer Head Woman, recorded by Jazz Gillum & His Jazz Boys for the Bluebird label in Chicago on 14 March 1938. The song later became an Aerosmith classic. George Barnes, who later became a world-renowned swing jazz guitarist, also played as a session guitarist during the 1950s for The Jodimars, a rock & roll band made up of former members of Bill Hayley and His Comets.
Take a listen to young George backing Big Bill Broonzy during the 1930s on the YouTube link below. Granted, it’s a touch jazzy but this was the jazz age and when George tones it down a bit, he’s playing pure improvised blues.