The Great American Blues Players Signature Study: Please Add Your Examples

Hello everyone,

I have been wanting to start a thread on this for a long time, and i figure now is as good of a time as any. I collect primary guitar players, and have been selling alot of them off recently, but one thing i continue to collect are the great old blues guitar players. Their is something about the Delta Blues traveling lifestyle that holds alot of wonder for me. These guys laid the foundation of modern music and they inspired many, if not most, of the musicians working today. Most think of Robert Johnson when they think of the great Blues players, but their are so so many others that deserve mention and tons of respect.

As anyone who has ever studied early blues signatures knows, they are incredibly difficult to authenticate or even find at times. You have guys like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, BB King just to name a few whose signature examples can readily be found. But aside from a few key players, autographs from these guys are very hard to find. And when you find one, often you really have to trust your source or do some serious research. And even then you often cant find examples.

So i thought this would be a good thread that may help future collectors out with examples we think are authentic. Please post examples of blues signatures that you like and want to share. Guys like Buddy Guy and BB King probably dont need to be posted in mass b/c their signatures are so abundant, but dont hesitate if you would like to post some.

I hope this can turn into a good database, and really the only one of its kind on the net. I have many examples from many different sources and if someone doesnt want their picture posted just leave a comment and i will delete it.

I am going to start this off with Albert King. You can find Albert King signatures from time to time, and of the 3 King's, he is the next most available after BB. Alberts signatures are typically sloppy, shaky, and can take on a few forms. Albert often write "Love You" before his signature, and his typical signature takes the form of A. King. I have also seen variations including "A.B. King". King often would not write out King fully and the formation would flow from the K almost into the g. I have seen my fair share of forgeries with Albert, but his signature can be authenticated in most instances in my opinion. Here are some examples with sources:

This is one album i used to own and recently sold on RR Auction. It came from "Mr. Bebop", of Larrys Books and Autographs. He specializes in blues signatures and this was a great example of king.

These next images came from RR Auction

The Ace of Spades album is a nice example, and the rarer A.B. King signature. The middle cut display is more atypical. This one in my eyes can go either way but is probably good. The A looks typical but the King is a little more unusual. But he did do this from time to time in his shorter signature versions. The bottom example is a typical King signature.

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well might as well do another blues artists autog's..since i have the floor, you say what?

let's view buddy and junior in a small L A, CA club,the year 1976. i was turning pro photographer, and seems most or many rookie photogs don't have that much in their bag of poses, me included, but,but, but, no one can say my 'toast the glasses and now look at each other' pose didn't work. look at their spontaneous expressions, just great!

ten years pass, and finally they are in ft laud, fl. i go to the musicians exchange club and ask them both to sign, they did, junior wells, twice. they had separate dressing rooms, i remember thinking at the time, maybe they don't get along.

now i realize of course they were separate, why would'nt that be the norm??duuhhh .buddy guy would later comment he remember the suits, but not taking the pics.

Attachments: No photo uploads here

Hi Dave,

Another great story, thanks. I love the fact that Buddy remembered the suits, fantastic! 

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells were one of the greatest Harp/String duos ever, others include the pioneering Sonny Terry / Brownie McGhee (see earlier in this post for Brownie (and some Sonny)), Jack Owens / Bud Spires (both shown in this post) and, more recently, the likes of John Cephas / Phil Wiggins.

From an autograph perspective Buddy Guy is probably the most readily available Blues graph out there, he must spend an incredible amount of time signing this, that and the other! Junior Wells is not as common and when you get partnerships like this it’s always great to see both autographs on the same item.  Here are a couple of other examples of Buddy Guy with Junior Wells:




Hi Carl,

As previously mentioned about Earl Hooker, a good voice can make or break even the most accomplished player.  So if you aint got the vocals what do you do?  Well, you hire a singer of course.

The vast majority of Blues artists (especially male artists) are known for playing at least one instrument, and sometimes more, but out of the Big Band era of the 30’s and 40’s materialised a new form of Blues act – the Blues Shouter.  These artists were famous for one thing and one thing alone – their vocal abilities.

Though they were called Blues Shouters, the ‘Blues’ was really but a title, as this type of Blues fills up the grey space between Blues and Jazz (much like the Classic Blues females).  The ‘Shouters’ part is pretty spot-on though, as to be called such one had to possess a powerful booming voice (to be heard over the accompanying band members).  These guys primarily came from the Jazz/Ballad stable, and helped create the post-war R&B/Jump and, ultimately, Rock n Roll scenes.  Most, it is fair to say, faded into obscurity once the Big Band bubble burst in the early-mid 50’s, but a few did live on, and I’ll look at the most famous and resilient here:

If someone was to paint a picture of a Blues Shouter that picture would be Jimmy Rushing.  James ‘Jimmy’ Rushing gained the nick-name of “Mr. Five by Five” due to his height and width, and he is probably best remembered as the front man of the Count Basie Orchestra from the mid-thirties to the early-fifties (the absolute peak of Big Band music).  The rip-roaring bigger than life swinging showman was a perfect fit for Basie’s slightly more Bluesier sound and helped push the band to super-stardom.  Basie said that Rushing “never had an equal”, and that was proved by his ability to carry on touring and recording long after he finished with Basie’s Band and long after most of his contemporaries had been left/forced out of the industry.

Many of these artists did not grow up in the hard-time Delta convict itinerant way.  They were normally educated to some degree and fairly literate.  As such their autographs are not the ‘x’ or childlike scribbles we’ve seen from others.  Jimmy Rushing is no exception, he grew up in a fairly comfortable musical family and even went to University (until he dropped out!).   With regards to value, well, it can be surprisingly low, some of this I put down to their genre not fully appealing to hard-core Jazz or Blues aficionados (and possibly being a little ‘out of favour’ in the current market), and there is also the fact that many were ‘famous’ during their life so the number of autographs is greater.  So what is a Jimmy Rushing autograph worth? Well, probably around $50 for a cut and around $100+ for a picture of album, which seems pretty cheap for someone who was at (or at the very least near) the peak of their field.  I must admit to not having studied his autograph for any real length of time, so the following examples are of ones that look good but I would not be able to say whether I truly believe they are genuine or not (as an aside he seems to have singed both ‘James’ or ‘Jimmy’):




Next on the fame-o-meter of Blues Shouters is Joseph Vernon Turner Jr. better known as Big Joe Turner (or The Singing Bartender or even The Boss of the Blues).  Turner was a Super-Shouter, apparently not needing any amplification to be heard over the band.  A pioneer of Jump Blues (a mix of R&B and Boogie-Woogie) he and his long-time pianist companion, Pete Johnson, took Kansas City, Turner’s birthplace, then New York by storm.  Fame really struck in the early fifties while Turner was singing for the Count Basie Band (as a replacement for Jimmy Rushing) when he was signed to the Atlantic label.  It was here that he released some of his most famous tracks “Shake Rattle and Roll”, “Honey Hush” and “Flip Flop and Fly”.  The success of these songs made him hugely popular to a newly burgeoning Rock n Roll audience, and TV and Film appearances followed.  By the late 50’s though Turner was moving closer back to his Jazz and Blues roots, where he would stay for the rest of his recording career.

Big Joe Turners autograph is fairly rare but can be found.  They do turn up on eBay and when they do they can normally be had for a good price.  Giving an estimate on his signature is a little difficult as I have seen his autograph go for around $150 for a simple cut, and yet at the same time I’ve seen a nice signed album go for about $30, so where do you put your pin? I would probably estimate on average a cut to be around $75 and a picture of LP to be about $125+.  Two things to note with his signature are – he would often sign with the inclusion of ‘KC’ (for Kansas City) and he should not be confused with the Jazz/Blues pianist Joe Turner.  Here are some examples:

The aforementioned cut (which recently sold for $150):



As previously shown in this post (with T-Bone Walker and Johnny Otis):


Signed LP (with Richard "Groove" Holmes autograph):

For my final survivor I’ve picked James ‘Jimmy’ Witherspoon. ‘Spoon’s idol was Big Joe Turner and he followed in his hero’s path by becoming one of the greatest post-war Blues Shouters.  his career really started when Jay McShann, leader of one finest blues bands (next to Count Basie’s), took him on after hearing him perform in a club in California.  In 1949 he had the years biggest selling R&B track with his version of the much covered “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, this rendition became Spoons signature tune and would later be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.  Spoons vocals were more Jazz/Soulful than Rock n Roll and, with the demise of the Big Bands, he found work hard to come by.  However after a sterling performance at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival his career got back on track with many tours and recordings through the 60s and 70s.  Following operations for throat cancer in the late 70s/early 80s his vocal abilities were, not surprisingly, a little diminished, but he continued with his work and, shortly before he passed, received a Grammy nomination for his ‘Live at the Mint’ album in the mid 90s.

Jimmy Witherspoon’s autograph is quite common given his extensive touring and long recording career.  I would estimate a cut to be around $25 and an LP or Photo around $50, I wouldn't look to go a lot higher than that unless it was an exceptional piece:




Hi Carl,

One instrument that will forever be associated with the Blues is the Harmonica.  The Blues Harp as it is more commonly known has been a mainstay of recorded blues music from the 1920’s right up to the modern age.  From Master Harpists, to multi-instrumentalists, to those who dabbled, so many Blues Standards have utilised this most wonderful of sounds.  Often to be found as one side of a String and Harp combo, or as part of a bigger band, there were a few artists who transcended their partners/band mates to become solo stars.

To start where things should start, though I have no autograph examples of him, the first true Harmonica star was John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson.  Posthumously entitled “The Father of Modern Blues Harp”, he was the first to take the instrument from the poor-man’s side-lines to front-and-centre stage.  So many that followed have credited him as their greatest influence that it would be wrong not to write a small piece about him here, but as this is an autograph collecting site I will leave it there.

I will also leave out a couple of Harp Masters and some outstanding players because they have been shown previously in this post, I encourage you to take a look back through the previous pages to see autograph examples of the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sonny Terry, Snooky Pryor, Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed and Big Mama Thornton.

So onto the Harp Stars that I will show; firstly there’s Walter Horton, better known as “Big” Walter Horton (after apparently giving up his earlier moniker of “Little” Walter Horton to Marion Walter Jacobs), or Walter “Shakey” Horton, due the way he moved his head whilst playing.  In the pre-war period Big Walter learnt a lot from Sleepy John Estes long-time sideman Hammie Nixon, and in turn Big Walter is said to have influenced and helped a young Little Walter.  He was one of the first (if not the first, if you believe his version of events) to use amplification with the harmonica, and became a leader of the burgeoning Chicago Blues sound.  Like Otis Spann and Earl Hooker, Big Walter is a musicians musician, record producer Sam Phillips said of him "When Big Walter played, the blues fell all over you" and Willie Dixon called him “the best harmonica player I ever heard”, and bearing in mind the harpist that Dixon worked with in his time then that’s saying something.   So if this is the case why isn’t he as ‘famous’ as some of his contemporaries like Sonny Boy Williamson II or Little Walter, well it could be because he was apparently quite shy and introvert so was never really comfortable as a front-man / band-leader, much preferring to let others take the limelight, it also could be due to his heavy drinking that stopped him from holding together a band of his own, whatever the reason it has meant that for recording output we have some amazing backing harp, but very few solo/band-leader pieces,.  I’ll finish with a small piece of Big Walter trivia – as a character called “Tampa Pete” Big Walter can be seen as the harp player in the Maxwell Street band scene, with John Lee Hooker, in the Blues Brothers film.

Big Walter Horton’s autograph can be found with some looking and a little patience.  He lived till the early 80s and did tour quite a lot, but did not sign extensively and his autograph, due to his place in the development of the Blues, is desired.  The last 2 pieces I know of that sold, both earlier this year, were a cut (framed with photo) that sold for $125, and a programme page signed picture that sold for approx. $360.  So that gives an idea of value (though I personally would put both of these at the top end of his value for the respective items).  Again if something does pop up on eBay (which is rare) you’ll probably be able to get a bargain.  I have seen his autograph signed in a number of different ways, including “W S Horton” “Big W S Horton” “Walter S Horton” and even a strange “W B G H” and I’m sure there are other variations out there, anyway here are some examples: 

Firstly the recently sold cut:


Next the recently sold programme page:


Now a couple that have been shown before – firstly the group lot from RR Auctions (Big Walter’s autograph can be found in the middle wedged between T-Bone Walker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Roosevelt Sykes and Lightnin Hopkins):


Finally the multi-signed Blues book (Big Walter’s autograph is near the top of the left page, and at the bottom of the right page you’ll see another Sonny Boy Williamson autograph):

Next in the Harp Masters section is the man seen by most as the greatest exponent of the art-form, namely Marion Walter Jacobs, better known as Little Walter.  A Demi-God to Blues Harp enthusiasts he was and is the Chicago Blues Master, nearly all modern Harpists credit Little Walter as a primary influence. He took a harp a microphone and a plug and turned them into pure gold.  He was the first of any musician to use electronic amplified distortion, long before the Blues/Rock Gods of the 60s touched it.  Stardom struck when he joined the Muddy Waters band in the late 40s and he continued to assist the man for much of the 50’s, but Legendary status was achieved when his first solo recording “Juke” released on the Checker label in 1952 (which was laid down in the first full take) went to the top of the R&B charts and stayed there for 8 weeks.  For the rest of his career Little Walter recorded about 100 tracks (of which approximately half were released) and 14 of which reached the R&B charts top 10.  However all of his hits were in the 50’s, the 60’s were much harder for the star.  The vast majority of people who worked with him agree that as an artist he was magnificent but as a man he was a complete b@st@rd, and as things got tougher his drinking and drug use got heavier (just look at pictures of him from the mid 60’s, is this really a man only in his mid 30’s?!?).  An angry man he would often get into trouble, and in 1968 his fighting ways took his life.  Leaving his rather large personality failings aside no other pure Harpist has had a number 1 spot and no other pure Harpist has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so as a Blues Harp artist he is numero uno.

Due to his standing a Little Walter autograph is a prized possession.  They are rare but they are out there.  I struggle a lot with value as it varies so much, for instance in 2013 a signed photo went for $630, whereas in 2014 an almost identical signed photo went for a little over $4,750!  Then in 2012 a multi signed LP (not in great condition but signed by the likes of Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker and 7 other stars) sold for about $700, and then in 2013 a small signed cut mounted with a piece of artwork went for about the same price! So what is an autograph worth? Well I think this is a great case-in-point of the value is whatever the market is willing to pay.  For style his autograph seems to take on 2 forms – neat or scruffy (which I would like to think depended on the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in his system).  Here are some examples:

The 2 photos previously mentioned that went for vastly different prices (see if you can spot why, because I can’t):


Signed page with others from the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival tour:


Some signed cuts:


I wanted to include a couple of other Little Walter autographs, as they show a differing style, a more 'sloppy' style. 

As previously mentioned Little Walter was a heavy drinker, as Marshall Chess put it: "he was an alcoholic and a drug-abuser. Those traits often go hand in hand with genius. Miles Davis once said to me that Little Walter was as much a musical genius as Mozart and I wouldn’t disagree. The way he played harmonica completely transformed the blues. There was nobody at Chess more talented than Little Walter". 

I would make the assumption that the following examples were signed at a point when Little Walter wasn't completely sober:

An example from Recordmecca:


A program from the 60s, that also contains the autographs of Memphis Slim and John Lee Hooker (personally this is my favourite style of JLH's autograph).  Very rare to get 3 of the greats on one page:


Wow Nate, you're a one man museum! amazing!! here is a mike bloomfield video of my still photographs, including his autograph.
and here is a video slideshow of my muddy photos and 'famous' double sig..enjoy...
thanks david j.

And here is another messy/sloppy Little Walter on the same image as the one sold by recordmecca (photo from the AFBF programme of 1967), the 'Little' is pretty good and in this example he has the 'U.S.A.' the right way round, but the 'Walter' is pretty messed-up:

So who can follow on from such a man as Little Walter, well, the simple answer is nobody for pure unadulterated ripping Harp.  But if you leave the harp front-and-centre, surround it with a top notch band and put it in the huge ham-hands of someone who also has incredible (almost unbeatable) vocal talents, then, and only then, can we move on.  I am of course talking about the colossus that is Howlin Wolf.  The Wolf would, I firmly believe, be on most peoples Mount Rushmore of post-war Blues artists.  Which other Blues artists can be seen in the Rock and Roll, Grammy and Blues Hall of Fames, have 3 tracks in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”, and be in Rolling Stones Top 100 greatest artists of all time? Not to mention having their face on a US postage stamp and having a life size statue in Chicago?  Yes…I agree…Muddy Waters for most of these things, but other than Muddy?  Chester Arthur Burnett, as he was born, is a giant in all senses of the word, Bonnie Raitt described him as “the scariest, most deliciously frightening bit of male testosterone I've ever experienced in my life”.  He learnt his wares from the best, picking up showmanship and presence from Charley Patton and the Harp from Sonny Boy Williamson II (who married Wolf’s half-sister).  It also didn’t hurt that he got to play in his early career with the likes of Robert Johnson and Son House.  He recorded and scored a number of hits in the 50s with the Chess label, and with the writing assistance of Willie Dixon in the early-mid 60s he laid down some of his most memorable pieces (e.g. “Back Door Man” “Spoonful” “The Red Rooster”), his tracks were lapped up by the developing Blues/Rock bands, especially in England, and numerous covers were seen by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zeppelin.  Wolf’s health deteriorated in the 70s following a number of heart attacks and kidney damage due to a car accident, and in 1976, whilst in hospital, he passed away.

Howlin Wolfs autograph is one of the most wanted in Blues autograph collecting and they are pretty rare and hard to come by (as people keep hold of his graph).  Thanks to his links to the development of Blues/Rock he is one of the more world renowned Blues artists.  Illiterate for much of his life (though not all) he ‘learnt’ is autograph so most signatures are pretty similar, the 2 main differences that I can see are firstly he would sign either “Howlin Wolf” or “Howlin Wolf / Chester A Burnett”, and secondly the middle initial ‘A’ would sometimes be upper-case and sometimes lower-case.  For value I would estimate a cut to be about $350+ and a signed photo or album to be $750+.  Here are some examples:

Firstly a wonderful American Folk Blues Festival Programme page (with 3 great harpists next to each other – Howlin Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Hammie Nixon), sold this year for a little over $3,250:


A Howlin Wolf cut (with long term guitarist friend Hubert Sumlin):


Multi signed LP:


A signed programme page:



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