Bullfrog Willard McGhee

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Bullfrog Willard McGheeTrue to his handle, th' Bullfrog Willard McGhee sings in a friendly, gurgling growl, a little like a latter-day Dave Van Ronk. While his voice is warm with a world-weary gentleness, his acoustic guitar smacks and snaps as he picks out the Piedmont blues Blind Boy Fuller made famous. McGhee pairs with Tad Walters tonight for the release of their first duo album, Stealin' Gasoline. The two trade guitar licks, Walters' bluesy drawl standing up to McGhee's croak. The duo most impresses, though, when Walters cuts in with flapping, soaring harmonica. It's a Sonny Terry/ Brownie McGhee-style pairing that can both wallow in and fight away the pain. —Andrew Ritchey Independent Weekly

Tad Walters is a genius. A multi-instrumentally talented, nine-days-sober-in-a-week, fingers-like-a-licking-flame genius. Raised in Raleigh, North Carolina despite the gas shortages of the seventies, Tad's Carolina origins are evident every time he gathers the strings of his L-1 up into his fingers and twists them into the sleek and joyful shapes that make Blind Boy Fuller's Piedmont Blues distinctly Tad Walters' Piedmont blues.

Billy Boy Arnold told me that Tad's style is his own. When Billy Boy talks about Tad he uses words like "authentic" and "deep."

He taught himself how to play the guitar and the harmonica and he did an astonishingly fine job of it. But a musician's life, no matter how exceptional the musician, is a rough life...Tad decided he needed a back-up plan in case the music didn't work out for him. He left Bob Margolin's band after five years and lived briefly in Pittsburgh where he occasionally attended mechanic's school but mostly traveled around the country playing with Big Bill Morganfield.

He settled in Raleigh, NC. Tad regularly plays and teaches in his hometown. He still plays with Bob Margolin and Big Bill Morganfield. But his current enduring partnerships are with Piedmont blues great John D. Holeman and "Bullfrog" Willard McGhee...

“Bullfrog” McGhee is a genius. A multi-instrumentally talented, rambling-shaggy-dog-story-telling, torch-song-sentimental-but-beer-hall-bawdy-songwriting genius. A West Virginian by nature and temperament, Bullfrog was raised on the road by chronic movers. In Chicago he tended relationships with Howard Armstrong and Johnny Shines; in California with Utah Phillips and Brownie McGhee; in Virginia with John Jackson and John Cephas. Bullfrog is a Piedmont guitarist in the “Virginia” tradition: where Tad's playing is urban and emphatically rhythmic, Bullfrog's style is rural, often gentle and melodic.

John Cephas told me Bullfrog was one of the “great traditional artists.” John Jackson said if you had Bullfrog, “you couldn't have any better...”

He taught himself how to play the guitar, banjo and harmonica and he did an astonishingly fine job of it. With a powerful affinity for narratives and storytelling, Bullfrog relates his experiences as a United cab driver in New Orleans, a West Virginia coal miner, a purveyor of suspect periodicals in Chicago, a Burlesque performer, a house carpenter, grocer and hardware salesman all with a fine wit and clever songs beautifully and fluently expressed in a number of traditional idioms.

Currently settled in Raleigh, North Carolina, Bullfrog writes about blues for a variety of periodicals, occasionally speaks to college classes about music, folk traditions, migrations, disease and poverty, sells a little hardware and performs regularly with his partner and friend Tad Walters.

Current release: Stealin' Gasoline, TadFrog Records, rlsd. Jan. 2011. Available through CDBaby, iTunes etc.

Current release: Pink & Mr. Floyd; Blues from the Piedmont w/Lightnin' Wells, TadFrog Records.

Current release: Blues Under the Bottle Tree w/John D. Holeman and Boo Hanks, TadFrog Records.

Current projects: Bullfrog and Tad with T.B.S., the Questell Foundation and WSHA Radio are raising money to put a marker on the grave of Piedmont blues guitarist Floyd Council. Bullfrog is writing a driving tour of notable blues sites in the Piedmont which is being released in serial form on the Triangle Blues Society website. Both are booking dates together and separately for the rest of the year.

On New Years Eve 2009 I had a gig in Raleigh and called the deeply bluesy Tad Walters to make it a duo, adding his singing, guitar and harp playing. Bullfrog was opening the show, and I was taken with his singing, guitar, songwriting, and storytelling. It doesn't surprise me that they got together to make this fine CD. Nothing on it would surprise anyone if they heard it in 1940, except that gasoline is now so expensive. Tad & Bullfrog are masters of the acoustic Blues tradition and bring their own fire, talent, and stories to their music. The human challenges that inform both old and new Blues are expressed in their timeless music which speaks right to the soul. --Bob Margolin

bookingtadfrog@yahoo.com (919) 534-5280 www.willardmcghee.com



 
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