Lowell Fulson was born on a Choctaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma in 1921. But it was on Oakland’s 7th Street that his musical career began.
Conscripted into the army and stationed in West Oakland, Fulson occasionally played his guitar on street corners and at house parties. When local record producer Bob Geddins met Fulson, he told him, “If you ever come back through this way, I’ll record ya.”
One day, while visiting friends in the area, Fulson walked into Geddins’ one-man record-press shop on 7th Street. Fulson, who was 25-years-old, grabbed a guitar off the wall and played so well that Geddins signed him to a deal and paid him $100 cash. Geddins pressed Fulson’s first 78 rpm records and sold them from the trunk of his car. Fulson’s sound evoked rural Texas, and his first recorded tune, “Three O’Clock Blues,” was destined to become a B.B. King staple.
From that fateful day in Oakland, Fulson’s career took off, but he rarely played in West Oakland again. He thought Slim Jenkins’ Place was full of “snotty-nosed people.” Fulson saw Esther’s Orbit Room, across the street from Slim’s, as a welcoming down-home place, but he didn’t play there until 1966.
Instead he was destined for the big-time. He toured his smooth “jump-blues” with Ray Charles, Ike Turner and other jazz, blues and soul greats. Among the musicians who recorded his tunes were Elvis Presley and Otis Redding. He soon sparked interest across the country, and was signed to Chicago’s Checker label. He continued to play in clubs on the West Coast, and was especially partial to clubs in Richmond, California.
According to fellow musician Tom Bowden, Fulson was known for his big white guitar, a Gibson 3335 that had three pick-ups.
Fulson was able to write songs that responded to the times. If soul music was the order of the day, he could infuse his sound with soul. If a song required a jazz edge, he could accommodate. He was able to mix different styles to satisfy a range of listeners. In 1954, he recorded with Kent Records under the name Lowell Fulsom. His career didn’t slow down until the late 1960s when rock and roll dominated the music scene, though Fulson continued to perform in clubs and at festivals well into the 1990s.
Though he strayed far from 7th Street, Fulson could not deny its influence. Fulson says it was Bob Geddins who, aside from giving him his first hit, taught him how to phrase the blues, telling him to “…hold that wind in there, boy, before you change that note.” Fulson died in Long Beach, California in 1999.