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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My next choice chronologically for female blues was not difficult for me.  An all-time favourite of mine: Eleanora Fagan better known as Billie Holiday.  Is she really blues?  YES SHE IS!  As many people have said when asked ‘what is the blues?’ they answer ‘the blues is a feeling’, and not many people give the blues feeling more than Billie Holiday.  In my opinion the only female singer to get even close to her amazing blues vocals was Janis Joplin.  She may be found referenced under Jazz in record stores due to the sound around her, but to me she IS the blues, she epitomises everything about the Blues.

Anyway, rant over :-)  I will not write anything about Billie’s life as it has been covered many times over on the web.  With regards to her autograph, if you think of it like John Lennon’s signature – there are a number of them out there but due to value and popularity there are also a number of fakes, so to get an authentic one you’re going to have to pay.  You might be lucky and get a bargain through eBay (or similar) but you’re more likely to pick up a turkey.  To give an idea of price – Of the last 10 Billie Holiday autographs to sell through RR Auctions (as of August 2014) the average price was $3,300.  Now you can certainly pick up a good autograph for less than that e,g, you might be able to pick up a cut for around $400-500, but her graph aint cheap.  Here are some examples:

Firstly a couple of early signed pieces:


Next a couple of heyday signed pieces:


Then we have a couple of pieces signed with other names: One as 'Lady Day' the other with her birth name 'Eleanora Fagan':


And lastly we have her final autograph, given the day before she passed:

Coming up next we have the rip-roaring ball-buster that is Willie Mae Thornton, more commonly known as ‘Big Mama’ Thornton.  Thornton’s idols were Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, two of the strongest/biggest personalities in the Blues, and ‘Big Mama’ was strong and big in every way; personality, voice, stature and drinking!  Some might say she was a one-hit-wonder with the immortal ‘Hound Dog’, but I think that’s cutting her short, she wrote and recorded a number of solid tracks through the 50’s and 60’s and put out a couple of stand-up albums which had a rather impressive support cast on them of artists like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Fred McDowell.

With regards to Big Mama Thornton’s autograph, she is pretty rare and, thanks to her strong links to the development of R&B and Rock n Roll, highly sought after.  She is by no means in the same league as that of Billie Holiday or Ma Rainey, but I would estimate a cut to be around $150-$200 and a photo or album to be $500+ (a photo did recently sell for $1.5k, I think this a little high but she is very rare on photos and albums). She would normally sign either ‘Big Mama’ or ‘Big Mama Thornton’ and you would expect to see the inclusion of ‘Best Wishes’ and/or ‘Love Always’.  Here are some examples:

The aforementioned signed photo:


Cut from American Folk Blues Festival from 1972:


Finally a multi signed Blues book, with the 'Big Mama' Thornton autograph being half way down the left side page (and, incidentally, you can see an example of Victoria Spivey's autograph opposite on the right side page):

Janis Joplin paid for Big Mama's tombstone --

Not accurate. Big Mama died in 1984, 14 years after Janis passed away in 1970.

Actually, Janis paid for Bessie Smith's headstone. But I follow the intent & spirit of the original comment.

Janis paid for Bessie Smith’s head stone. 

i was lucky to find willie mae thornton "big mama" with b b king backstage, mid 70'

i wonder if the phone # is still good?

A piece I never thought I'd see or be able to get - a beautifully autographed Willie Mae Big Mama Thornton LP (rare as hens teeth this one).  The classic 'Big Mama Thornton In Europe' album (probably her best album release) is signed "Thornton" "Best Wishes" "Big Mama" "With Love" and is in pretty near perfect condition.  This, for me, is about as good as it gets for a Big Mama Thornton autograph:


Here is another example of Big Mama Thornton's signature as found on a concert poster.

Finally from me in this section I would have put Jessie Mae Hemphill, but seeing as she has already been covered earlier in this thread I will instead look at the multi grammy award winning Blues/Rock/Pop/Country musician Bonnie Raitt.  The disciple of many of the great female (and male) blues artists that came before her, she has in turn become the leader of the plethora of female blues guitarist that have followed, and for this reason I have included her.  A master (or should that be mistress) of slide, her work on and off the record for the blues scene is something to be applauded.  For me personally I find her blues work (like many of the more modern female blues artists) is best when she is covering other artists songs.

Her autograph is far from rare but she can be quite tough to get in-person.  With regards to value, she is a popular artist and more known to the masses than many of her predecessors so her graphs do sell well, as such I would value them around $50 for a simple cut up to about $175 for a good album or photo.  eBay is a great source for her autograph (fakes aside of course!) so you’d probably be able to get a bargain there.  Here are some examples:



These are examples of Jack White's autograph, of The White Stripes/The Raconteurs/The Dead Weather.



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