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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Guitar Gabriel

Robert Lewis Jones (October 12, 1925 – April 2, 1996), known as both Guitar Gabriel and Nyles Jones, was an American blues Musician. Gabriel's unique style of guitar playing, which he referred to as "Toot Blues", combined Piedmont, Chicago, and Texas blues, as well as gospel, and was influenced by artists such as Blind Boy Fuller and Reverend Gary Davis. After hearing of Guitar Gabriel from the late Greensboro, North Carolina blues guitarist and pianist, James "Guitar Slim" Stephens, musician and folklorist Tim Duffy located and befriended Gabriel, who was the inspiration for the creation of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Gabriel wore a trademark white sheepskin hat, which he acquired while traveling and performing with medicine shows during his late 1920s.
Gabriel was born in Atlanta, Georgia, moving to Winston-Salem, North Carolina at age five. His father, Sonny Jones (also known as Jack Jones, James Johnson, and as Razorblade for an act in which he ate razor blades, mason jars, and light bulbs) recorded for Vocalion Records in 1939 in Memphis, accompanied by Sonny Terry and Oh Red (George Washington). Sonny Jones also recorded a single for the Orchid label in Baltimore in 1950 (as Sunny Jones). His family, who grew up sharecropping, shared a talent for music. His great-grandmother, an ex-slave, called set dances and played the banjo; his grandfather played banjo and his grandmother the pump organ; his father and uncle were blues guitarists and singers and his sisters sang blues and gospel.

In 1935, Gabriel's family moved to Durham, North Carolina, where he began playing guitar on the streets. Between the ages of 15 and 25, Gabriel traveled the country playing the guitar in medicine shows. During his travels, he performed with artists such as Bo Diddley, Lightnin' Hopkins, Louis Jordan, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, B. B. King, T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed. In 1970, Gabriel went to Pittsburgh and recorded a single, "Welfare Blues," as well as an album, My South, My Blues, with the Gemini label under the name "Nyles" Jones. The 45 became a hit in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and though the album sold well, Gabriel never saw any royalties.Disillusioned and embittered by the music business, Gabriel returned home to Winston-Salem where he continued playing music, but expressly for his community, at churches, homes, clubs, "drink houses," and even at bus stops when children were returning home from school. The album, My South, My Blues was reissued in 1988, on the French label, Jambalaya, as Nyles Jones, the Welfare Blues.
Tim Duffy and Guitar Gabriel in Utrecht, 1991

In March 1990, musician and folklorist Tim Duffy began searching for Guitar Gabriel. After being directed to a drink house in Winston-Salem, Duffy met Gabriel's nephew, Hawkeye, who took him to meet Gabriel. Duffy and Gabriel forged a friendship, and began performing under the name Guitar Gabriel & Brothers in the Kitchen, later recording the album, which was released on cassette, "Do You Know What it Means to Have a Friend?" on their own Karibu label. During this time, Duffy would assist the impoverished Gabriel by providing transportation, paying bills, and providing food for him and his wife, but realized that there were many more musicians like Gabriel who were in need of the same assistance, and who were still capable and willing to record and perform. In 1994, Tim and his wife, Denise Duffy founded the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Through this foundation, Gabriel was able to perform in professional venues, including the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and made several trips to Europe. Gabriel died April 2, 1996, and is buried with his guitar (per his request to Duffy) at the Evergreen Cemetery in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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