Guitar Shorty, blues legend who inspired Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy, dies at 87

The musician toured with blues icons BB King and Guitar Slim in his youth.

Guitar Shorty performing at 80th birthday

Image: Gabe Ginsburg / Getty

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Guitar Shorty, the blues guitarist born David William Kearney who was an influence to Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy, has died at the age 87.

The musician’s passing was announced by his record label, Alligator, in a statement posted yesterday (21 April). According to the label, the artist – born David William Kearney – passed away from “natural causes” in his Los Angeles home on Wednesday (20 April).

Kearney was renowned for his unconventional guitar playing, husky singing voice and energetic performances, which even involved backflips and front rolls.

In his twenties, the sought-after musician opened for Ray Charles and Guitar Slim, and met Jimi Hendrix in Seattle while touring with influential soul artist Sam Cooke.

According to Alligator, Hendrix would often go AWOL from the US army to catch Kearney’s performances.

“Jimi told me the reason he started setting his guitar on fire was because he couldn’t do the back flips like I did,” Shorty told Alligator.

Born in Texas in 1943, Kearney took an interest in guitar at a young age, inspired by the likes of BB King, Guitar Slim and T-Bone Walker.

Kearney soon joined Walter Johnson’s 18-piece orchestra as featured guitarist and vocalist, and, supported by singer-songwriter Otis Rush in 1957, released his first single on independent label Cobra Records.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1971, Kearney also opened for his idols BB King and T-Bone Walker and he eventually settled there to play gigs locally.

Over his seven decade-long career, Guitar Shorty released 10 full-length solo recordings with his 2004 Alligator Records debut, Watch Your Back, being his best-selling record. His final album, Trying To Find My Way Back, came out in 2019.


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