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Tin Hut Heroes

TIN HUT HEROES

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B.B. McPhail -- Legendary Strathbogie Bluesman


B.B. (Blind Boy) McPhail – A brief biographical note reproduced from the book ”Bluesmen of Stathbogie” by R.J.Hammock ….  (now sadly out of print.)


Blind Boy was born in a bothy on the Braes O’ Gartly, the 11th child of an itinerant shepherd and his wife. The exact date of his birth is unknown but is thought to have been around 1900. Shortly after his birth his family left the district, leaving BB abandoned in the heather by the roadside. Legend has it that for the first two years of his life he was suckled by a ewe who had lost her lamb, however that is speculation. What is not speculative is that the young BB was adopted by an elderly couple who lived at Bridgend and he was educated at the Central School until he was 12 or so. At his point he ran away to Rhynie to see the world.

The nickname ‘Blind Boy’ was bestowed on him at school, not in respect of any visual impairment but for his inability to see that the article he had just put in his pocket belonged to someone else. However he was a popular figure at local musical gatherings where he performed bothy ballads accompanied by the Neep Guitar, a unique instrument with a kiln dried neep as its sounding box and  genuine wild cat gut strings. B.B. worked as an orra loon for a farmer later immortalized in B.B.’s most famous song “The Skanky Black Farmer”. Unfortunately he failed to see that the aforementioned farmer might take offence at some of the descriptions of him in the song. After being sacked, BB felt it was wise to go far away and shipped himself off to America as a stowaway inside a whisky cask. After two years rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic he found himself in Chicago where he worked in the stockyards as a cattle goader. It is said that his personal hygiene was such that any cow downwind from him would automatically move in the opposite direction and so he never needed a stick for his work.

 

B.B. was fortunate enough to be in Chicago at a time when blues legends like Whimpering Coyote and Little Willie Cruddy were playing in bordellos and dives . BB was welcomed by these pre-eminent bluesmen who accepted him as a white version of themselves, oppressed by landowners and driven by economic necessity to the Windy City. Under the influence of these Chicago Bluesmen  his native bothy ballads underwent a metamorphasis and he created a unique style of singing and playing known now as ‘scunnering the blues’.

 

Returning to his native Gartly sometime in the 1940s, B.B. took up residence in the loft of the Tin Hut, where he worked as hall keeper. He continued with his music, enjoying the fine acoustics of the hall where he practised daily. He played small venues in the area, having to travel far and wide to find audiences who had not heard him before. Sadly, in December 1953, he was found drowned in the urinal at the pub in Gartly where he had been for some days celebrating his supposed birthday.

 

Blind Boy McPhail’s legacy lives on in the music of contemporary Doric Bluesmen and indeed it is thought by some that his ghost can occasionally be seen in the Tin Hut. 


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