Granville "Sticks" McGhee ©2002JCMarion
Sticks McGhee, whose real first name was Granville was born in Knoxville. Tennessee, in 1917. Later as a teenager living in Kingsport he learned the guitar. The lifelong nickname "Stick" or "Sticks" had nothing to do with him playing drums, but was a throwback to the time as a child pushing his brother around in a wagon with a stick. Walter ("Brownie") McGhee who contracted polio as a child later became a well known blues and folk music performer, mostly with Sonny Terry.
McGhee entered military service in 1942 and upon his discharge settled in New York City in 1946. In 1947 recorded with Brownie McGhee and Dan Burley for the Harlem label. The song that would become his signature tune "Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" was released on Harlem #1018. The flip side was "Blues Mixture". The 'A' side was also released that year by Decca on #48104 with "Baby Baby Blues" on the other side as by Sticks McGhee & His Buddies. In February of 1949 he recut "Drinking Wine" and "Blues Mixture" with "Big Chief" Ellis on piano and Brownie on guitar and Atlantic Records released the two on #873. "I'll Always Remember" and "Lonesome Road Blues" were also cut at that session and released as #881. The same combo did "Drink Up All That Wine" and "Southern Menu" on Atlantic #898 in October of 1949. From that session also came "My baby's Coming Back" and "Venus Blues" on #909.
During March of 1950, Sticks recorded with Sonny Terry on harmonica and Harry Van Walls on piano. The results of these sessions are "Let's Do It" and "She's Gone" on #912, "House Warming Boogie" and "Tennessee Waltz Boogie" on #926, and "Blue Barrehouse" and the well known R & B tune "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" on #937. For the next year McGhee was absent from the recording studio, appearing from time to time in night clubs in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. The next recording session he was on was in New York, but this time for the London Records label, as the British company was trying to tap the American R & B field. Recording as Sticks MsGhee & His Orchestra, he was joined at the session by Al King on sax, Van Walls on piano, Brownie McGhee on guitar, Tom Barney on bass, and Ernest Hayward on drums. The songs were "You Gotta Have Something On The Ball" and "Oh What A Face" released on London #978.
Late in the year Sticks found himself back at Atlantic Records for a recording session, his last for the label. Again recording as by Sticks McGhee & His Buddies, they recorded "Wee Wee Hours" parts 1 and 2 on Atlantic #955. One last release on Atlantic resulted in "Meet You In The Morning" and "New Found Love" on #991. In 1952 his only record was for Philadelphia's independent Essex label. The songs were "No More Reveille" and "My Little Rose" on Essex #709.
In 1953 Sticks was signed to the King Records label. In January of that year he recorded with Charles Rawlins and Maxwell Lucas on tenor sax, Ed Wanderveer on trumpet, Douglas Blackman on piano, Clifford Bryan on bass, and George Ward on drums. The songs were "Little Things We Used To Do" and "Head Happy With Wine" on King #4610. This was followed by "Whiskey, Women, and Loaded Dice" and "Blues In My Heart" on #4628.
The next session for King took place in New York on September 2, 1953 with James Buchanan on tenor sax, Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Mickey Baker on guitar, Carl Pruitt on bass, and Specs Powell on drums. They recorded "Jungle Juice" and "Dealing From The Bottom" on #4672, and "The Wiggle Waggle Woo" and "I'm Doing All The Time" on King #4700. The last session for King took place in February of 1955. This time the house band consisted of Jimmy Wright on tenor sax, Duke Parham on piano, Prince Babb on bass, and Gene Brooks on drums. The tunes recorded were "Double Crossing Liquor" and "Six To Eight" on #4783, and "Sad, Bad, Glad" and "Get Your Mind Out Of The Gutter" on King #4800.
Later in the year Sticks did a session for New Jersey based Savoy records as Sticks McGhee & The Ramblers. The songs were "Times Have Changed" and "Help Me Baby" on #1148. Sticks toured with Annie Laurie in various New Jersey locations presented by Trenton dj George Bannister during the Spring. In the late 50s Sticks recorded LP album tracks with Sonny Terry for the Folkways and Prestige-Bluesville record labels. In 1960 a New York session with Sonny Terry for the Herald Records label produced "Sleep In Job" and "Money Fever" on #553. This would be Sticks last session in the recording studio. Sticks McGhee became ill shortly afterward and passed away from cancer in August of 1961.
Sticks may not be well known, maybe only for "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee". But as with many other original R & B performers, he led the way so that so many others could follow. For that alone he is owed a debt of gratitude and a smile.
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