Junior’s One Blues Bad Ass
Those of us not gifted enough to play guitar, or any other instrument for that matter, might wonder what goes through a renowned Bluesman’s mind when he decides to chuck the bright lights and big city for a quiet life in the mountains of Arizona.
Freddie Cisneros AKA Little Junior One Hand grew up listening to the Blues in Ft. Worth, Texas, his hometown. His story is familiar in that he had older siblings who turned him on to the music they were listening to. Somewhere in there he heard the Blues and you can guess the rest.
“So, I grew up with an older brother and sister,” Freddie said. “They would bring home the coolest records. I still think of Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry as Rhythm & Blues. My sister’s best friend gave me a John Lee Hooker LP and a cousin gave me a Jimmy Reed LP and that’s when I went over the edge. I started to seek it out.
“KNOK (AM) was Ft. Worth’s R&B station at that time and it was the only station this 10 year old was digging. I was also listening to Jazz, Kenny Burrell, ‘Trane, Miles, Milt Jackson. etc. It seemed to be the natural progression from Blues. It all seemed to fit and I was wearing it.”
In his formative years in the late ’60s and early 70s Freddie was playing and hanging out with other future legends of Texas Blues. The Dallas/Ft. Worth scene was filled with young players doing the same thing he was - digging the Blues.
“About 1971, I had a band that included Mike Buck (original Fab T-Bird drummer) on drums; Jack Newhouse on bass; me on guitar; and Lou Ann Barton on vocals,” Freddie recalls. “We drove over to Dallas to hear a band called “(Texas) Storm.” It was Jimmie Vaughan, Louis Caldrey on harp, Freddie “Pharaoh” Waldon on drums and (the late) Keith Ferguson (original T-Bird bassist) on bass. We all became instant best friends that night. What a great band.”
From his Ft. Worth beginnings Freddie migrated to Austin in the early ’70s like so many of his friends had done. From there he moved to Houston and enjoyed the nightlife over there for a number of years. That’s when he got the itch to slow down and get away from the big city and its trappings.
“The music scene in Houston was great,” he says. “I lived there for 12 years but heat, humidity and roaches big as harmonicas, drove us West. We had family and friends in California, Arizona, and Utah. We would vacation out here often. We liked Prescott, high, dry and cool. I needed a break from the big city Blues scene too.”
Freddie finally settled in Prescott and owned and operated “Mercy Guitar Hospital & Fiddle Doctor for many years until his retirement a few months ago.
But, back to the story……
Like any player who studies the music of his luminaries, Freddie has his heroes.
“One local guy stands out in my mind,” Freddie remembers. “Ray Sharpe was the “King of the Scene” back in the day. He was booked solid all over Ft. Worth/Dallas. If there was a frat party, they had to hire Ray. My dad was a commercial artist and sign painter. He did most of Ray’s posters, business cards and album covers. So me and Ray go way back.
“His band was always dressed in suits and sometimes tuxes. Ray was a great singer, guitar player and showman. I saw Ray every chance got. I snuck in to a lot of bars and clubs just to hear him. His style of guitar was amazing. He recorded his only hit record “Linda Lou” in Phoenix, about 1959. In the ’70s I was playing in his band. Don’t tell Ray, but I would have played for free. I would have paid to play on stage with the great Ray Sharpe.”
Besides listening to Blues legends as the audience at the Rhythm Room did recently when Freddie shared the stage with Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton it’s almost as much fun to hear the stories these guys tell about their experiences on the Blues Highway.
“I’ve been in bands that have opened for some of the greats, B.B. (King), Freddie (King), Albert King, Junior Walker, Gatemouth (Brown), Bobby Bland, Albert Collins, Son Seals, Muddy Waters, Big Walter Price, on an on.
“The one gig we did that really shook me, was on a farm on the outskirts of Ft. Worth,” Freddie remembers. “A friend of mine hired us to open and back up Lightin’ Hopkins. Lightin’s Cadillac got high centered in the cornrows and we had to haul his gear to the house. We played on a back porch that subbed for a stage. I’d never seen him play electric guitar but he pulled out an old black Strat that looked like it was used in a bar fight. I’d never seen him stand and play either. He was great. He was a kind and gentle guy but he played the hair off of that old Strat. If only we had recorded him playing electric. That summer night in 1972, playing a gig with Lightin’ Hopkins, was the best gig of them all.”
On the origin of his nickname, “Little Junior One Hand,” Freddie has another interesting tale to tell.
“Back in the ’70s I had a band called The Blasting Caps,” Freddis says. “The guys thought it would be funny if one of us was called Little Jr. One Hand. Remember the warning posters in school? “KIDS DON’T TOUCH THESE, THEY WILL BLOW YOUR HAND OFF!!” So as the story goes: this Little Jr. One Hand guy learns to play guitar using artificial hands. At that time I was doing a floor-show, playing slide-guitar. I had a bunch of props, metal hands, plastic hands, dildos, vibrators, hacksaws, bricks, and an old Kotex dispenser that were part of the regular show.
“Soon people started handing me stuff to play with, bottles, shoes, ashtrays, chairs, food, bald heads, butts, just about anything. One night this guy comes up to the stage and unscrews his hand for me to use. I even played with a human skull one night. Now that’s some righteous tone brother.”
Today’s Blues scene is a touchy subject to many of those who have made the music their life’s work, Freddie Cisneros included.
“Don’t get me started,” Freddie exclaims. “People don’t realize Blues has many categories. Sirius radio has three Country channels, nine or 10 Rock channels and they just lump Blues into a single slot. It’s things like this that smother the Blues.They teach music in public schools but never mention Blues. They teach millions of kids how to play clarinet but not guitar or electric bass. How many of those kids are making a living playing a (expletive deleted) clarinet? Blues, Jazz, and Country music are our American art forms and they should be a priority from the first grade on.
“I was playing a gig a few years back when a kid comes up to the stage and says, “You guys are great, what do call this music?”
There’s still time to save the Blues.
“The Blues is dead but it won’t lay down,” Freddie says. “The only thing that Blues out sells in the stores is Classical music. If it wasn’t for a devoted following, Blues societies, underground and Internet radio stations, we’d be in big trouble. Blues is still a building block for a lot of musicians and I think it always will be, no matter what style of music they end up playing.”
It’s up to the young guns to keep all going, but they’ve got to opt for some originality, Freddie says.
“They all sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he says. “I love Stevie. We go way back, but these kids should investigate where it all started. Those kids are all smoking players and I wonder where they’ll take Blues?
“Blues will always be around and there will always be a precious few die-hard fans of the classic Blues musicians and singers. The Blues isn’t going backwards I’m sorry to say, it’s morphing into another stage of being, like it always has in the past.”
Big Daddy speaks
“I first met Junior after I graduated from Northern Arizona University,” says Darryl “Big Daddy D” Porras. “I returned to Prescott with my degree in hand and was about to get a new degree in the Blues. At the time Junior was working at Prescott Music Center and we immediately hit it off because we talked the same language-Blues guitar players. He not only knew the musicians I studied and adored, but he KNEW them. He worked with them. Not to mention he was considered one of the greats. I’m grateful he gave me, a young kid with very little experience, a chance to perform and learn with him on stage.
“What I love about Freddie’s playing is that he sounds like no one else out there. He has a distinctive and unique style. An all-Texas sound, but different from all the other great guitar players. He’s part Freddie King, part Jimmy Reed, part Ray Sharpe, part Chuck Berry–mixed up into one blues bad ass.”