Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller Mural, Jonesboro

Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller isn’t well known today, outside music circles, but he should be. The itinerant bluesman left his native Jonesboro after a childhood typical of Black Georgians of his day and after a series of manual labor jobs in various states, wound up in California circa 1920. He worked as a shoe-shine man outside the United Artists studio in Hollywood and was a favorite of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who helped set him up with a hot dog stand. He also got him work as an extra, in such notable films as Thief of Baghdad. With the money he saved from that enterprise, he moved to Oakland and began working for the Southern Pacific Railroad. When his railroad job ended after World War II, he went back to shining shoes, singing as he worked, and gained notice from musicians in the burgeoning Folk movement who were then flocking to the Bay Area. Due to his exposure in local bars and cafes, he recorded his first album in 1958. He had trouble finding, or paying, other musicians to back him up; as a result he invented the fotdella, a six-string bass, rigged with a cymbal. He also invented a rack to hold his harmonica and kazoo. He was a one-man band. Bob Dylan supposedly adopted his harmonica rig after listening to Fuller and recorded his song “You’re No Good” on his first album.

Fuller gained notoriety for “San Francisco Bay Blues”, which was covered by numerous artists including the Grateful Dead, Janis, Joplin, Jim Croce, and Eric Clapton.

The mural, by Shannon Lake, is a nice tribute to this influential artist.

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