Sunday, September 5, 2010


Bluesmen, particularly in Texas I have found, liked in the old days to carry revolvers in either .44 special or .44-40 calibers. I once played a gig at a club in a notorious part of Houston known as "The Bloody Fifth". I was backing a very old bluesman who was well known locally but never became a big star. When he was putting his guitar in it's square Fender case, I noticed an old Single Action revolver in a a "mexican loop" style belt holster. He grabbed the pistol and removed it from the holster and stuck it inside his coat jacket inside pocket. He mentioned something about thugs in the neighborhood might want something for nothing from him, thinking he was making big money playing music in a bar, but he said he had a .44-40 that said otherwise.

I really didn't know much about the caliber, or really the blues back then, back in my early twenties. But I knew several of the older and younger fellows I'd occasionally gig with in rough, gritty parts of town carried them. Revolvers new and old chambered in .44 special and .44-40. Every now and then you'd see a cat with a .45 1911 or S&W revolver, and you saw lots of .38 Specials. But over and over in my young years of playing the blues whereever and whenever I could, I saw older cats with forty fours. Every now and then you'd see some fool with a .44 magnum, and you knew they were idiots unless they were carrying .44 specials in those magnum pistols.

But I came to know that .44 specials and .44-40 not only had repeated mentions in blues songs, they were carried by the old bluesmen working the club circuit and traveling on the road, back when any black man with money was a target. From sometime in our American history when black men carrying acoustic guitars began to travel to make money playing "the blues", they carried pistols to protect themselves if they were of any means at all.

Here's a good wiki article on the .44-40...

Not only was there the problems of segregation and racism, but the same hazards faced by other road and train warriers in those days. Hijackers. Thieves. Con men and women. And as more than one bluesman found out over the years, that jealous husbands packing heat were a frequent danger as well.

One song I played for years with a band, called .44 Blues. Here's the wiki link about this traditional song written in 1929 and adapted by many and made famous to the mainstream by Howling Wolf, and later by Johnny Winter, followed some lyrics:

Well I walked all night long, with my .44 in my hand (2x)
Now I was looking for my woman, found her with another man
Well I wore my .44 so long, Lord it made my shoulder sore (2x)
After I do what I want to, ain't gonna wear my .44 no more

Now I heard my baby say, she heard that 44 whistle blow (2x)
Lord it sounds like, ain't gonna blow that whistle no more
Now I got a little cabin, and it's number 44 (2x)
Lord I wake up every morning, the wolf be scratching on my door

Other bluesmen have written songs about .44.-40 caliber, which was common in the late 1800's and early 1900's as a revolver caliber. It was a popular caliber because it had both rifles and pistols chambered for it. It shot a large 200 or so grain .44 projectile at speeds in the 1000 to 1300 feet per second range. A good combination of mass (big bullet) + velocity. According to Wiki, at one time this cartridge was the most popular in America and has the reputation of killing more deer than the 30-30. No small feat.

So by the time these blues men were traveling the roads from juke joints to improptu bars in someones homes, the .44-40 caliber had been around for years. Used guns and ammo in this caliber were plentiful back then and probably good deals could be had on older single action pistols and some of the newer double action revolvers. I've seen or known more than one old time blues guitarist or musician who carried some kind of .44 caliber revolver for protection. I've seen .38's and .45's and as well as .25's and .22's and the occasional .32, with old time blues players who work the clubs on the road. But it sure used to seem that a lot of the old guys carried .44's or .44-.40's with them.

Most of those players, musicians...bluesmen are dead now. They were old as Moses when I met them in my early 20's in Houston, or in other towns. Maybe one day I find me an old single action .44-40 with a case hardened finish and the Colt rubber handgrips and about a 4 and 3/4" barrel, like the one that old bluesman had in his aged tweed Fender guitar case. I hope one of his relatives got the gun and appreciated it and all the juke joints and highways and adventures that it had been on.

If that old .44-40 pistol could talk, it'd have some stories to tell I do believe.

1 comment:

  1. That's just a great story! Now I got to look for one of those too.