'San Francisco Bay Blues' revisited: Moving back to Jesse Fuller

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JESSE FULLER
Move on Down the Line
(Fledg’ling)

By Kimberly Chun

He was “the Lone Cat,” for sure. Bay Area blues-folk 12-string guitarist and vocalist Jesse Fuller went by that moniker back in the day -- he died in 1976 at 80 -- when he plied his one-man band (including his fotdella, a foot-operated hammer-and-pedal string bass of his own invention, and harmonica-kazoo-cymbals-washboard setup) on the streets of San Francisco.

The self-described “folk songster” spent years riding the rails after leaving his native Georgia, arrived in SF to work its shipyards as a wartime welder, and later opened an Oakland shoeshine parlor. He also penned blues-folk standard “San Francisco Bay Blues,” which went on to be covered by everyone from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney. Fuller certainly displays an inviting feline ease on the original version of that number on the lovingly assembled Move on Down the Line, supplemented by notes by music maven Joe Boyd and filled out with a number of tracks that aren’t on other Fuller discs in print. The songwriter’s version is the definitive ode to the city: brisk, breezy, driven by his evocative, supple drawl and bring-it-all-home kazoo solo. It’s the finale to a quirky, compelling, and essential document of a now-less-than-recognized piece of SF music history -- a part of the Southern blues tradition that carved out his own place by the Bay.