“I would like to be recognized as one of the greatest guitar players ever to hit the stage.” Guitar Shorty, nee David Kearny, doesn’t waste much time on false modesty, especially since the 64-year-old Texas native has been hounding the same ambition since touring with Ray Charles at 18.
Shorty learned from Charles as well as Guitar Slim, who was famous for his onstage acrobatics. Shorty was soon doing back flips and headstands while playing. When he was given a chance to be the support act for T-Bone Walker–who was on the verge of being canned for his drinking problem–Shorty used those high-flying skills to make an impression. He ran across the stage, flipped and did a headstand, blazing away on his guitar the whole time. Walker just smiled and left.
“T-Bone came in with his head smokin’. He couldn’t hardly see the bandstand,” says Shorty of his first experience with Walker. By the second show, Walker had gotten his head back together. “He said, ‘Ladies and gents, let me introduce you to my nephew.’ He adopted me as his uncle.”
Shorty later married Jimi Hendrix’s stepsister, Marsha. When she introduced him to her famous brother at a family reunion, she was flabbergasted when Hendrix greeted him warmly. “‘Shorty. Man, it’s been awhile since I seen you.’ And she said, ‘You know Jimi?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you just didn’t tell me it was Jimi Hendrix,’” remembers Shorty. “He said, ‘Welcome to the family, bro. I learned a lot from you. You’re the most amazing guitar player I’ve ever seen in my life.’”
Hendrix wanted to take Shorty with him on his next tour, but he died before it could happen. Still, Shorty has soldiered on with his fiery brand of blues-rock, but he’s had to give up on the mid-performance flips.
“Now, they love the way I play,” he says. “I would like for all the people to love Guitar Shorty.”
Guitar Shorty plays the Blue Bayou Club in Hillsborough on Friday, Sept. 8. at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 in advance and $18 at the door. Advance ticket are encouraged, as capacity is limited to 100 people.