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Bull City Red, whose real name was George Washington, is best known as a sometimes sideman on washboard to the likes of Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry, and Blind Gary Davis. He was a partial albino, and he came from Durham, North Carolina, a town best known for W.T. Blackwell's "Genuine Durham Smoking Tobacco," which carried a bull trademark image. The town earned the nickname of "Bull City," which became attached to guitarist/washboard man George Washington. He wasn't an especially gifted guitarist, his strongest skill being his ability to imitate Blind Boy Fuller.
His strongest talent lay with the washboard, which he played extremely well, backing up any number of other players. Red led an otherwise blind group that included Fuller, Sonny Terry and, for a time, Blind Gary Davis as well, and with help from their manager, department store owner J.B. Long, landed a contract with Vocalion. At one point in their history, Red, Fuller, Terry, and guitarist Sonny Jones performed together as "Brother George and His Sanctified Singers," and made several recordings of gospel-themed material.
Red was later responsible for hooking Terry up with Brownie McGhee, whom he met while on a trip to Burlington. McGhee was partnered with a blues harpist and one-man band named Jordan Webb at the time, and Red introduced the two to Fuller and Terry as well as their manager. Eventually a musical relationship developed between Terry and McGhee, and following Fuller's death during surgery in 1941, Long began recording McGhee with Webb, Terry, washboard man Robert Young (who had previously played with McGhee), and Red.
He cut more than a dozen sides showing off his skills as a singer and guitarist as well as on the washboard, between 1935 and 1939. The material as such wasn't too impressive, at least as far as Red's guitar work, but his performance on washboard was lively and his singing most expressive.
Bull City Red (born George Washington, Durham, North Carolina, United States) was an American, Piedmont blues guitarist, singer, and predominately washboard player, most associated with Blind Boy Fuller and the Reverend Gary Davis. Little is known of Red's life outside of his recording career.
George Washington's primary nickname, "Bull City Red", came from the 'Bull City' town of Durham, where he was born. He was sometimes alternatively called Oh Red. Although he was just good enough as a guitarist to imitate Fuller, with whom he frequently played, he was a very talented washboard player and also sang.
A partial albino, Red was a street musician in Durham before becoming the sole sighted member of a band managed by talent scout J. B. Long that included at various times Fuller, Sonny Terry and Davis. In 1935, then a trio featuring Red, Davis and Fuller, the band went to New York to enter the recording studio for the first time, in a session for the American Record Corporation (ARC). As his collaborators were blind, Red signaled them by touch when the recording ended. Accompanying Fuller along with Terry, Red recorded many songs for ARC's Perfect label between 1935 and Fuller's death during surgery in 1941.
Red also recorded gospel music based songs under the name of 'Brother George and His Sanctified Singers' along with Fuller, Terry, and Sonny Jones. He recorded "I Saw the Light" with guitar backing by Davis. On Fuller's latter day compilation album, Get Your Yas Yas Out, Red played the washboard on "Jitterbug Rag". Between 1935 and 1939, he struck out on his own as well, recording solo with his own vocals, guitar and washboard. His tracks included "Black Woman and Poison Blues" and "I Won't Be Dogged Around".
In 1941, Red became involved with another band. In late 1940, he had introduced Brownie McGhee and his collaborator Jordan Webb to his manager and fellow musicians Fuller and Terry. After Fuller's death, the group came together along with another washboard player, Robert Young, to record.