Hacksaw Harney

"Hacksaw was an octopus!" As I burst into laughter, Robert Lockwood, Jr., continued his assessment of Hacksaw Harney. "Well, that's the only way to explain how he could play so many notes at once. Of course, Robert [Johnson] stole his licks from a lot of guys, but I know for a fact that he learned from Hacksaw. And you know Hacksaw was just as good on the piano, don't you?"

These comments, delivered on October 6, 2000 by one of the most highly esteemed guitar players in the world and a man who has lived through the history we discuss on these pages, serve to confirm what blues artists have been saying for years: Richard 'Hacksaw' Harney was regarded as the greatest musician in the Mississippi Delta by his peers.

For Adelphi, the story began in Chicago in 1969 when Big Joe Williams would finish a sentence with the words, "Yeah, _____'s good [fill in the blank with artist's name], but Hacksaw could cut him in a minute!" The sentiment was repeated so often, by so many musicians that finding Hacksaw and hearing him play became an obsession for the Adelphi crew. When Dewey Corley helped locate the traveling piano tuner and convinced him to sit in with other Memphis musicians for interviews and informal jam sessions, the reward was immediate and lasting. As he explains at the end of the Shantytown clip, Hacksaw did not even own a guitar and had not played for over 20 years, but, he admits, "I was good 20 years back. My match was hard to find on guitar from then on back."

If this was rusty playing, we can only imagine what men like Big Joe Williams, Robert Lockwood and Robert Johnson heard in the 1930s. By that time, Hacksaw had mastered a very sophisticated sound, due in part to his experience with a jazz orchestra during the early 20s and reinforced by his ongoing exposure to a variety of musicians in his travels as a piano tuner and rebuilder.

With profound pleasure and respect, we offer these glimpses of a truly remarkable musician for your enjoyment. ~Denise Tapp

A Shanty in Old Shantytown

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