Arthur Crudup Biography

Guitarist, Songwriter, Singer (1905–1974)
Bluesman Arthur Crudup was an early electric guitar player whose songs were later made popular by Elvis Presley.


One of the early electric guitarists, Arthur Crudup composed blues standards "That's All Right," "Mean Old Frisco," "Rock Me Mama" and "So Glad You're Mine." Although Elvis Presley's recordings of his songs sold millions of copies, Crudup was not paid royalties. Disgusted with and exploited by the recording business, he largely abandoned it in the mid-1950s. After making a living from manual labor for several years, Crudup found new interest in his music in the 1960s and toured on and off until his death in 1974.

Early Years

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup was born on his grandparents' land in Forest, Mississippi, in August 1905. He grew up singing spirituals and working various rural jobs, never picking up a guitar until he was in his early 30s. His teacher was a local bluesman called Papa Harvey, and Crudup honed his skills to the point that he played dance halls and cafes around Forest. Around 1940, guitar in hand, Crudup left Mississippi for Chicago. There, he was "discovered" a year later, allegedly while playing guitar for change on a Chicago sidewalk, by music publisher and RCA executive Lester Melrose, a known entity on the Chicago blues scene.

The Recording Artist

Melrose hired Crudup to play at a party that night, and the guitarist wowed the crowd, including several members of Melrose's stable of musicians. By the fall of that year, Crudup was signed to RCA and in the studio recording such songs as "If I Get Lucky" and "Black Pony Blues." Crudup stayed with RCA for the next 12 years, and over that span he recorded approximately 80 tracks. "Mean Old Frisco" would become a blues classic and was one of the first blues songs to feature an electric guitar. Other hits followed throughout the 1940s, such as "Rock Me Mama," "Who's Been Foolin' You," "Keep Your Arms Around Me" and "Ethel Mae."

Three other original songs would come and go, only to find some time in the spotlight years later when Elvis Presley rerecorded them: "That's All Right," "My Baby Left Me" and "So Glad You're Mine." After Elvis recorded these songs, Crudup was referred to as the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll."

Unfortunately, Crudup was exploited by the royalty system, and even with someone as popular as Elvis Presley recording his songs, money never made its way into Crudup's pockets. He would, in fact, return to manual-labor jobs between recording sessions to support his family (which included three sons, George, James and Jonas, who in adulthood recorded as the Malibus and later as the Crudup Brothers).

In the early 1950s, Crudup updated his sound by introducing other instruments into his songs, such as piano, harmonica and saxophone, but it seemed his run as a popular musician had come to an end, and he returned to farm labor full-time.

Later Years

While Crudup rarely played concerts when he was in his heyday, the 1960s saw a revival of his stripe of blues, and he was in demand again. He began making appearances at campuses and clubs across the United States and eventually traveled as far as Europe. At this point, he was finally able to generate some income from his talents, but only for a few years, as he died on March 28, 1974.

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