When he lost his eyesight, Fulton Allen was 21. He couldn’t do the jobs he’d done before. He had to find a way to make some change. So he picked up his old guitar, and studied the recordings of the best. Soon he could run the gamut of styles on his National Resonator, from ragtime and ballads to blues and hokum.
Blind Boy Fuller became wildly popular, and one of the best selling blues artists of his time. He cut over a hundred twenty sides during his short career. And despite a stint in jail for attempted murder, he remained a prolific recording artist until his death at age 32.
He only recorded for six years, but Blind Boy Fuller made a deep impression on blues and rock and roll. Songs like “What’s that Smells like Fish” and “Step it Up and Go” are now standards. The Stones named an album after his “Get Your Ya Ya’s Out.” And the common phrase “Keep on Truckin’” comes from his song “Truckin’ my Blues Away.”
Laying out the dirty roots of Dylan’s “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” here’s Blind Boy Fuller’s “Mama Let Me Lay It On You.”
Blind Boy Fuller
Fulton Allen, also known as Blind Boy Fuller, was born in Wadesboro, North Carolina in 1907. He lost his eyesight by 1928, and had to find a way to make an income. Like many blind southerners of the time, he turned to the guitar he’d picked up as a kid. He quickly became one of the most prolific, and popular, country blues performers of the era.
He recorded over 120 sides in five years, working with harmonica player Sonny Terry and his young protégé Brownie McGhee.
In 1938, fiery Fuller pulled a gun on his wife, shot her in the leg and was sent to prison. His incarceration caused him to miss out on John Hammond’s retrospective of African-American music “From Spirituals to Swing” in New York City. Sonny Terry went in his stead, and garnered instant fame—he went on to have a long and prosperous on the folk blues circuit. Fuller, on the other hand, succumbed to illness caused by drink, and died shortly after of kidney disease.
Blind Boy Fuller’s formidable and idiosyncratic fingerpicking style made him one of the great Piedmont blues artists. With his National guitar, he paved the way for the great blues players and rock guitarists to come. His legacy can be found most readily in the work of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.