Curley Weaver (1906 -1962)
James "Curley" Weaver was an Atlanta guitarist and singer who played and with most of the musicians in the Atlanta blues scene. Curley was born in Newton County Georgia in 1906 to Jim and Savannah Weaver. According to Curley, his mother taught him several good songs. Interestingly, Weaver recorded only secular music, although Savannah, known as "Dip", played guitar and piano in church. By the age of ten, Weaver was already playing guitar; occaisionally he would play with the older Hicks brothers, Robert and Charlie, who were learning the instrument from his mother. Weaver was learning from many Newton County musicians, though, including Judge (or Judd) Smith, Nehemiah Smith, Blind Buddy Keith, Charlie Jackson, and Harry Johnson. (According to Curley's longtime friend Roy Dunn, Nehemiah Smith had the largest influence on his sound.) Curley was a friendly, outgoing person and formed a tight circle of musical friends with the Hicks brothers and harmonica wizard Eddie Mapp. In 1925, Weaver and Mapp moved to Atlanta, hooking up with the Hicks brothers again, who had come to the city earlier. Here Weaver became an integral part of the blues scene, connecting with the other Atlanta musicians with whom he associated.
Weaver's first break came in 1928, thanks to his old Newton County friend, Robert Hicks. Now known as Barbecue Bob, Hicks was one of Columbia's biggest blues stars. Hicks arranged for Curley to record in October of 1928 when Hicks was scheduled to record. Weaver recorded No No Blues, one of his mother's songs which Barbecue Bob had already recorded as Yo Yo Blues. Weaver didn't stay with Columbia, who already had Peg Leg Howell, Hicks, and Hicks' brother ``Laughing'' Charlie Lincoln. The following year, Weaver travelled to New York with Mapp and Guy Lumpkin for the QRS label; the first song he waxed was, again, No No Blues, this time with Mapp on harp. In 1930, Columbia recorded Weaver with Barbecue Bob and Buddy Moss as The Georgia Cotton Pickers. Weaver began his reputation as an accompanist, backing Ruth Willis and Lillie Mae. By 1933, Weaver was playing mostly with Blind Willie McTell and Buddy Moss. His Newton County friends were gone: Barbecue Bob had died, Charlie Lincoln's career was effectively over, and Eddie Mapp had been killed. That year Weaver travelled to New York again to record, this time with Willis, Moss, and Fred McMullen. He also started his solo career with the American Record Company (the first song recorded being, you guessed it, No No Blues). Moss said that Weaver was the best guitarist at that time, and Curley's surviving recordings make that a difficult claim to dispute. Later in 1933, Weaver recorded with Moss and Blind Willie McTell. Moss and McTell were the stars for ARC, but Weaver's sides stand up against the stiff competition. In 1935, Weaver made his last recordings before the war, travelling to Chicago with McTell for Decca.
In Atlanta, Weaver was still playing with Moss, but started moving in wider circles. One of the places he played was at the Pig 'n' Whistle Drive-In with McTell, according to Kate McTell. Curley also was spending time in his old hometown (Almon) in addition to Atlanta. Then in 1949, Regal was in Atlanta to record country blues talent, including McTell and Weaver. Weaver then recorded for Sittin' In With, three months after the Regal session. This may be Weaver's best work; he was only forty-four and obviously at the peak of his skills. Sadly, these were his last recordings. Weaver and McTell had stopped playing together by the late fifties. By 1959, Weaver's bad eye had gone totally blind and the other was quickly worsening. He moved to Almon, staying with a half-brother. He passed away in September of 1962.
In Red River Blues, Bruce Bastin says that, when researching Weaver's life, no one had one unkind thing to say about Weaver, remembering his music with pleasure and Curley with a smile. I'll leave the final words to Buddy Moss, quoted by Bastin: "I think (people) liked Curley best. Curley was a guy, he could really raise behind you and he could take up the slack. You didn't have to wait for him."
Not surprisingly, Weaver's music is available on cd from Document. Georgia Blues (DOCD-5110) features the surviving sides of Weaver, Eddie Mapp, Fred McMullen, Ruth Willis, and the others from these sessions. Weaver's later sides can be heard on Curley Weaver 1933-1935 (DOCD-5111). I have not been able to find his Regal or Sittin' In With sessions on compact disc, though they are supposed to be available.