Robert Hicks was working as a cook at a barbecue stand in Atlanta when he was discovered by a Columbia Records talent scout. What started as a day job made him famous—Hicks was from then on known as Barbecue Bob.
Gimmicks aside, Barbecue Bob could really play.He developed a style on his twelve string guitar called “flailing”. His first session, in March 1927, gave us Barbecue Blues—and made him one of the most popular artists on the race records market.
These days the legend of Barbecue Bob lives on. Especially since Eric Clapton adopted “Motherless Child Blues” as a favorite track. Here’s the original. Barbecue Bob, from 1928, with “Motherless Chile.”
(September 11, 1902 – October 21, 1931)
Barbecue Bob was born Robert Hicks on September 11, 1902 in Walnut Grove, Georgia. He worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but it wasn’t until he began a gig at Tidwell’s Barbecue that he came to the attention of Columbia Records. Talent scout Dan Hornsby thought the gimmick could be exploited to their advantage, so he had Bob pose in a chef’s hat and apron for publicity photos and recast him as Barbecue Bob.
Bob had learned to play guitar from Savannah “Dip” Weaver, Curley Weaver’s mother. Curley later went on to pair up with Blind Willie McTell on the Atlanta blues circuit.
It was a short, but successful career for Barbecue Bob. He recorded 68 78-rpm sides over four years. The first, “Barbecue Blues” he cut in 1927, and the record quickly sold 15,000 copies for Columbia’s race series. Bob continued pen a number of popular blues tracks, recording traditional and spiritual songs for the label as well as well. He also recorded as a member of the Georgia Cotton Pickers, a group made up of guitarist Curley Weaver and harmonica player Buddy Moss. These were the last sides that Barbecue Bob recorded.
He died in Lithonia, Georgia of tuberculosis and pneumonia in 1931, at age 29. His recording of “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” was played at his graveside.