Guitar Gabriel’s Toot Blues: Listeners Circle 63

Dear Friends,

To all of you: thanks so much for supporting the Music Maker Foundation and all that we do. To this day, it surprises me when I google one of our artists and Music Maker’s pages are the sole listings of record. Without your backing, it’s an open question whether or not the musicians we documented would be known at all, let alone studied and loved. We are immensely grateful.

The release you’re holding in your hands provides a glimpse into how little we knew back then about the record business. First, we recorded it in a storage shed in our backyard, right next to a used car lot in Winston-Salem, NC. It was recorded to one cassette deck, and edited on another simple dual deck. The original J-card bears three titles, Do You Know What It Means to Have a Friend? on the spine, Guitar Gabriel & Brothers in the Kitchen on the front, and a third title below, Toot Blues.

I still remember my close friend Captain Luke’s reaction to an early mix. He’d drive around, listening to it over and over: Luke just loved it. It was and is a great driving album: it stayed in my van for months as I cruised around.

Tim Duffy, Captain Luke, Guitar Gabriel, Winston-Salem, NC 1991

Gabe’s guitar playing is singular: it dances in and out of time with no set bar structure. Every Gabe performance was a one-off. When I met Gabe, I’d never played blues guitar, just old-time folk stuff. But Gabe was determined to have me play the blues, so for months prior to the making of Toot Blues, I’d been playing with him every day and night at drink houses in Winston-Salem. On the day we first recorded with Captain Luke, Gabe took an old sheepskin hat I’d bought in Kenya and put it on. He said he needed a look, something that told a story to represent the music: I took a photo of him in it, and from that day, he and the hat were inseparable. It became his trademark.

Toot Blues, just one little cassette, launched our tour. We played every drink house in Winston and every bar in North Carolina, and before we knew it, we were being invited to play festivals, radio stations, eventually Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and travel to Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and France. When not touring, we would play street corners, the High Point Furniture Market, anywhere folks gathered really, and sell cassettes. We sold thousands to all sorts from all walks of life.

And now thirty-three years later we’re reissuing it: you can hear it on a streaming service, or put it in your tape deck and recreate the original listening experience. It’s the real deal country blues: Gabe’s lines are heavy, not just the same ding-dang. No wonder his presence was so electrifying: at that point, I’d only heard Lightnin’ Hopkins records and now I was hanging with a man who’d traveled with Lightning himself, King Curtis, and countless other artists both known and forgotten.

It’s always been my stance that Guitar Gabriel should never be forgotten, and that as long as I was around, I’d keep his name and music alive. Today, thirty-three years later, you can pop the Toot Blues reissue in the deck, express the blues with Gabe, and preserve his memory.

Much Love,