John Henry Barbee (November 14, 1905 –
November 3, 1964) was an American blues singer and guitarist. He was born
William George Tucker in Henning,
Tennessee, United States, and changed his name with the commencement of his
recording career to reflect his favorite folk song, 'The Ballad of John
Barbee toured in the 1930s throughout the American South singing and playing
slide guitar. He teamed up with Big Joe
Williams, and later on, with Sunnyland
Slim in Memphis, Tennessee. Travelling down to Mississippi he also came
across Sonny Boy Williamson I,
and played with him off and on for several years. He released two sides on
the Vocalion label in 1939 ('Six Weeks Old Blues' / 'God Knows I Can't Help
It'). The record sold well enough to cause Vocalion to call on Barbee again,
but by that time he had left his last known whereabouts in Arkansas. Barbee
explained that this sudden move was due to his evading the law for shooting
and killing his girlfriend's lover. He later found out that he had only
injured the man, but by the time this was discovered, Barbee had moved on
from making a career out of playing music.
Barbee did not show up again in the music industry until the early 1960s,
whereby this time the blues revival was in full swing.
Willie Dixon searched out for Barbee, and
found him working as an ice cream server in Chicago, Illinois. In 1964 he
joined the American Folk Blues Festival on an European tour with fellow
blues players, including Lightnin' Hopkins
and Howlin' Wolf.
In a case of tragic circumstances, Barbee returned to the United States and
used the money from the tour to purchase his first automobile. Only ten days
after purchasing the car, he accidentally ran over and killed a man. He was
locked up in a Chicago jail, and died there of a heart attack a few days
later, November 3, 1964, 11 days before his 59th birthday.
He is interred in the Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.