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ORIGINAL POST: Hosea Leavy, the Fresno musician who called himself the "Grandaddy of the Blues," died this morning. He was 80.
Leavy recently learned he had liver cancer, his good friend Chris Millar said this afternoon. "He didn't know it until it was too late and it had already been spreading," Millar said. "That was over a month ago."
Millar, a plugged-in blues drummer, had helped Leavy gets gigs at blues festivals overseas and right here in California. Leavy was one of the stars of the Fresno blues revue at last year's San Francisco Blues Festival.
Below is a story I wrote about Leavy last year, around the time the Fresno blues community was doing a show in his honor and just before the SF Blues Festival.
By Mike Osegueda / The Fresno Bee -- 7/13/2007
Hosea Leavy motions at the sofa. Sit there. Next to the two fedoras and the bass.
"You like Westerns?" he says, lighting a cigarette as an episode of
"Bonanza" plays on the TV.
He's 79, and he's been in Fresno since coming from Arkansas 30 years ago. He has been playing guitar since 1933, when his daddy brought him home one that cost $2. When it comes to local blues musicians, he is the grandfather, all right. He's the real, time-tested thing.
A commercial comes on the TV for The Scooter Store.
"Hey Hosie, you need one of them?" jokes his buddy, Fresno blues guru Chris Millar.
"Not yet," Leavy says with a chuckle. He still drives around in his old Chrysler.
Millar has helped organize a tribute show to Leavy this Saturday at Last Call (formerly Zapp's Park), where guys from Fresno's blues scene will perform and Leavy will get up and do a few songs, too.
"We were talking, and we said we ought to do this date for Hosie," Millar says. "We're always talking about Hosie; he's the granddaddy of the Fresno blues musicians. He'll be 80 this year. So we thought it was time we gave him a tribute."
"When you get up to 80 years old," Leavy chimes in, "you don't have too many left."
He's quick to note, though, that his grandfather lived to 110 and his father, 92.
Leavy's music still is very much alive. He hasn't played a local gig
in five months -- everybody wants to play too loud, he says -- but he'll
head up north in September to play at the San Francisco Blues Festival.
"You can find a lot of people who say they play the blues, but they ain't no blues bands," Leavy says, now strumming his bass. "Most of them don't know what the blues is all about. They just play songs. Me, I love it."
On the table in front of him, next to his remote control, there are two ashtrays, some crackers, an empty carton of cigarettes, three stacks of quarters for laundry, a letter with an Arkansas return address, prescription bottles and a daily pill organizer.
"I'm on seven pills a day," Leavy says. "But I'm not sick or loopy or nothing like that."
But a recent bout in the hospital is what convinced Millar to put together Saturday's show, where half the money will go to Leavy.
"It don't make no difference," Leavy says about the tribute show. "I learned to not worry about nothing. If you don't worry about nothing; then you don't have no worries."
Blues & Rhythm Obituary
Hosea was born in Altheimer, Arkansas on November 26,1927. One of 15 children,Hosea learned the guitar from his father and older brother. In the mid 1940's he started playing in a combo that would play in and around Little Rock with instruments rented from a local pawnbroker.
In 1950 Hosea was drafted into the Army and saw some combat action in Korea. It was in the army's USO clubs that Hosea picked up his bass skills which served him well throughout his musical career. After being discharged from the service in 1954 Hosea and his younger brother Calvin formed group that eventually made history.
"We played so much together we knew what to do and how to do it.I could feel Calvin,he could feel me,when you feels the guys you are playing with you know what they are gonna do.You hits that groove and playing the Blues is like taking candy from a baby."
The rapport between the Leavy brothers was enough to make a massive hit record out of 'Cummins Prison Farm' on the Soul Beat label. The song detailed the sub-human conditions at Cummins. The prisons human rights expose was later made into a film titled 'Brubaker' starring Robert Redford.
The song hit at #40 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1970 and stayed there for 5 weeks after Shelby Singleton's Blue Fox label picked it up. The song has had a firm position in the canon of the modern Blues repertoire ever since,and is a favorite of Southern Blues audiences.
Hosea wrote and recorded one single in 1969 for Soul Beat titled 'It's Too Early in the Morning b/w You Cant Lose What You Never Had' the Muddy Waters original.In 1969 he also made a single for Riceland that was produced by Willie Cobbs titled 'Oo-Wee Baby b/w When I was a Little Boy'.
The brothers rode the 'Cummins' wave for a few years and made countless appearances throughout the south and elsewhere.
"There was only three of us but we could really blow and we made some pretty good money."
Eventually the Leavy brothers broke up and started their own bands. Hosea moved to California and started a combo with Johnny 'Da-Doo' Wilson on bass and Warren Milton on drums. This trio play a small joint in West Fresno called 'Wagners' every weekend for at least 5 years. The band would start around 10 in the evening and go until 5 in the morning or until the cops showed up.
"There would be 60 people standing and I kept it full because they said I got a style of playing guitar that makes people pat their feet and when they are patting their feet I feels good and I can really soul that guitar down".
In 1993 Hosea recorded a cassette titled 'Greasy Greens' for the debut of Fedora Records. The tape was noticed by 'Blues and Rhythm' who in turn published an article by Mike Rainsford which got Hosea some good festival work in Europe and elsewhere. Hosea recorded a CD for Fedora 'You Gotta Move' in 1997 and co-starred with Harmonica Slim AKA Riley(or Richard) Riggins titled 'Cold Tacos and Warm Beer.'
Hosea loved to hunt and fish when he wasn't gigging or hanging out at 'The Barrel' in West Fresno. Hosea was father to 26 children, 4 of whom are named Hosea Leavy,Jr. Hosea was a fine performer and a strict band leader. He was respected by the local musicians and he mentored many of the area's best Blues musicians.
His last major gig was the 2007 San Francisco Blues Festival. Hosea was still performing at a very high level only weeks before he drove his old Chrysler to the V.A. and checked himself in. In his last days at the hospice Hosea was very lucid and enjoyed visits with his friends and family.
"I love music ... You can pay if you want to, if you dont I don't
care, I'll just enjoy myself. I'm gonna play to the day I die".
posted by Mike Oz