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Harry Crafton

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  • Years Active: 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Harry Crafton was one of the better -- and, ultimately, unfairly neglected -- guitarists to come out of the postwar era. He carved a small but special niche for himself in Philadelphia beginning soon after World War II, cutting for a string of indepedent labels with a guitar sound that was heavily influenced by Tiny Grimes and a singing style reminscent of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. What little anyone seems to know about Harry "Fats" Crafton mostly concerns his career. In addition to being signed to Ivin Ballen's Gotham Records as an artist in 1949, he had a relationship with the company as a songwriter starting early in 1950, which was how he was most visible within the company. Crafton's songwriting credits often appear in confunction with bandleader and talent scout Doc Bagby and composer Don Keene. He led a group of his own, known first as the Jivetones and later on as the Craft Tones, and also played in bands led by Doc Bagby. He was prominently featured with Bagby's band on sides credited to the leader. In 1950, Crafton cut an instrumental, "Guitar Boogie"-dominated by his guitar and an unknown saxman (maybe Tiny Grimes band alumnus Joe Sewell) -- that was five years ahead of its time as a piece of primordial rock 'n roll. In 1951, Crafton began recording for the Jarman label in East Newark, NJ, with a band called the Sonotones, which included jazz organist Jimmy Smith (just out of music school at the time) in its line-up. By 1954, he was leading the Craft Tones, whose line-up, at least at one point, included Sewell on tenor sax, Jimmy Johnson on drums, and Doc Starkes on bass, as well as Agnes Riley as vocalist with Crafton. Those sides rock even harder than Crafton's early '50s jump blues numbers, and one can only wonder at their failure to find at least a cult audience, although titles like "Big Fat Hot Dog, " sung by Riley, were probably too risque for any radio station in the country to play heavily. Crafton, Sewell, Starkes, and Johnson subsequently joined r&b singer (and RCA-Victor alumnus) Melvin Smith in The Nite Riders Orchestra, who cut sides for M-G-M, Swan, and Sue Records, among other labels, during the late 1950's and early 1960's. Nothing is known of Crafton's whereabouts in music or anywhere else since the mid-1960's, although it is said that he ran a record store in Philadelphia at some point.