BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 


Granville “Stick” McGhee, later often credited as “Sticks” McGhee, had just two national hits, and one was an instrumental at that, but when the first of those hits was also just the second ever to make Billboard’s charts for Atlantic Records, the longest lasting and most celebrated of the rock independent labels, and the record that its founder Ahmet Ertegun constantly touted as the one that helped to save the fledging company and set the course for them to become the dominant label of the next decade, then the name Stick McGhee is in no danger of being forgotten even if his larger career outside of that record far more obscure.

Granville McGhee was born in 1918 in Knoxville, Tennessee, the younger brother of Walter “Brownie” McGhee, future blues star of the 1940’s who along with longtime partner Sonny Terry did more to popularize the Piedmont blues style than any others and then in the 1960’s helped spur a widespread renewed interest in folk-blues.

When Brownie was a child he was afflicted with polio which inhibited his ability to walk and so his younger brother used a stick to push him around in a wagon, thereby earning the nickname he’d forever be known by. While serving in the Army in World War II Stick McGhee heard a notorious barracks ditty “Drinkin’ Wine Motherfucker” and upon his discharge signed with the small Harlem Record label where he cut a lyrically modified version in 1947 called “Drinkin’ Wine-Spo-Dee-O-Dee”.

The record sold little and Stick McGhee faded from the scene until 1949 when a New Orleans disc jockey began playing the little heard two year old record on the air and created a huge demand for it around the Crescent City. When an Atlantic Records distributor from the area was talking on the phone to Ertegun who was gently, but desperately, asking why his label’s records weren’t selling and if there was anything that could be done about it the distributor mentioned that if Ertegun, whose Atlantic Records was based in New York, could somehow track down copies of the Harlem Records release by McGhee he’d pay him a bundle for as many as he could ship.

Intrigued by the possibility Ertegun, who’d never heard the record, asked the distributor to send a copy up and once he had it decided to hurriedly cover it outright with another artist in hopes of getting some sales of his own. As the only local bluesman he knew personally was Brownie McGhee he called him to inquire if he was free to cut a session when an incredulous Brownie told him that not only was Stick McGhee his brother, but that Stick was in the room with him at the moment looking for work!

Hence the younger McGhee’s career took off. With Brownie backing him on guitar they re-cut “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” with slightly revised lyrics and a touch more modernity and rush-released it, scoring a #2 hit in the process and setting Atlantic on firm financial footing at last. But Ertegun’s canny instincts only went so far as the bulk of the rest of that session were outdated blues and the one other rock song that might’ve elevated him even higher went unreleased.

McGhee remained with Atlantic however for a number of years and over time focused on exploring those rock styles heard on “Drinkin’ Wine” even further, scoring another #2 hit with an instrumental cover of the country smash “Tennessee Waltz” in 1951. While much of his material from this time was good he had only sporadic regional success with the rest of his output however and he bounced around from label to label over the latter half of the decade never recapturing his initial success and destined to be remembered as an unlikely shooting star whose name would be just a notable footnote in the larger story of a commercial recording giant.

Stick McGhee died from lung cancer in 1961 at the young age of 43, leaving his guitar to his nephew, the son of his more famous older brother who got him his nickname and later helped get him his chance at fleeting glory as an artist.
 
 
STICK McGHEE DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

DRINKIN’ WINE SPO-DEE-O-DEE
(Atlantic 873; March, 1949)
A joyful re-working of McGhee’s earlier release of the same song finds this version slowed down to emphasize the lyrics with drums added to give it a more modern sound, but otherwise the charm of the record lays McGhee’s relaxed reading of the sing-along classic. (9)