'I run, jump and live the blues'

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For someone who is 75 and has been in love with a single instrument since he was six, there’s a surprising amount of humility in legendary American guitarist-vocalist ‘Guitar Shorty’, the stage name of David Kearney.

 In his calm, deep voice, Shorty speaks to Metrolife about his bygone days – from performing with legends like Ray Charles, Guitar Slim, Sam Cooke and influencing guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy. 

Recalling his tryst with music, he vividly paints a picture of the story behind his name. “I started playing the guitar when I was six and got some help from my uncle. I went professional by the age of nine and got my first dollar for singing a song while in Tampa Bay, Florida, which is where I got my nickname. So I went to a club that had a marquis announcing that ‘The Walter Johnson Band featuring Guitar Shorty’ would play next week. I asked Walter Johnson ‘Mr Johnson, is this Guitar Shorty guy really good?’ and he replied, ‘Oh yeah’.

The following week, the manager of the club announced Guitar Shorty and I was sitting on a stool on stage looking behind at the dressing room to see who this guy was. Suddenly, the crowd started clapping and I turned around to see the manager pointing the mic at me. And that’s how I got my name,” he shares, specifying that his height had nothing to do with the name.

Even when it comes to Jimi Hendrix, his stories are full of life and recalled in great detail. “How it happened was that I ended up marrying his stepsister Marcia and she kept telling me ‘you got to meet my brother, you got to meet my brother!’ Jimi finally came in from London and was just hugging everybody and Marcia said ‘Honey, this is my brother’.

And he turned around and said ‘Oh hi, Shorty!’ She put her hand around her hip and asked ‘You two know one another?’ and we just laughed. He put his arms around me, embraced me and said ‘Welcome to the family, brother. You’re one of the most amazing guitar players I’ve ever heard or seen. I’ve picked up a lot from you’,” he reminiscences, adding that Jimi was a ‘very polite, soft-spoken guy’.

As was seen at ‘An Ode to the Blues Festival’, Shorty’s one of those people whose looks and demeanour defy nature, given that even at his age, his guitar riffs, stage antics and sharp memory do not fail to impress. Asked the secret of his energy, he replies, “I used to work on martial arts and had a black belt, which I practiced even getting injured when a car ran over me. I run, jump and live the blues.”

Does he have any regrets? He answers, “One of the regrets I have is that I never got anyone to push me, especially financially. I did mechanic work and drove trucks just to keep making music. But that was all me.” 

So what’s his driving factor now? “God,” comes the instant reply. “I’ve always said that even if I fall dead on stage with my guitar in my hand, I’ll die a happy man,” he wraps up.

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