Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Richard "Hacksaw" Harney was, ostensibly, a piano tuner and repair man based in and around Memphis, Tennessee. If you believe the endorsements of his musical peers, and there is no reason not to, he was also one of the greatest blues guitarists to come from the Mississippi delta area, and a major influence on a generation of artists that included Robert Johnson. Born in Money, Mississippi, in 1902, he was also a gifted piano player, spending his life as an itinerant piano tuner primarily in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee, but also travelling as far as St Louis and Chicago. His nickname came from the hacksaw he carried in his toolkit (not from a early boxing career as erroneously cited elsewhere) and with which he would fashion replacement parts for pianos. When he was in his early 20's he and an elder brother worked for tips and as backing musicians in Memphis but after his brother was murdered in a juke joint, Harney took up piano tuning. Robert Lockwood Jr. claimed that Harney was well acquainted with Robert Johnson and was a major influence on him, being the only musician that could compete with him (Johnson).
most of his life in relative musical obscurity but in the late 1960's he
was traced by folklorists to Memphis and in 1972 he recorded 10 tracks
for Adelphi Records. In presenting their Sweet Man CD Adelphi wrote,
"....... is pleased to present this ten song collection demonstrating
the guitar wizardry of Richard Hacksaw Harney, the musician's musician
from the motherland of American Music. Hacksaw was sought out by blues
researchers in the 1960's because of the high esteem with which his
contemporaries regarded him, many of whom were still awed by
recollections of his occasional, impromptu appearances in Delta jukes or
on the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show in Helena, Arkansas. In
1969, Adelphi's traveling studio followed the Harney reputation from
Chicago to Jackson and back to Memphis, where Hacksaw was finally
located, with the assistance of a posse of aging but enthusiastic blues
musicians. Their persistence was amply rewarded by his sparkling and
complex finger-picking playing".
In the recordings Harney plays Piedmont fingerstyle blues, merging ragtime with blues rather like Blind Blake. Most of the numbers are up-tempo instrumentals, all in a swinging style intended for dancing. Sadly one year after the recordings, in 1973, Richard Harney passed away in Jackson, Mississippi.