Born Granville Henely McGhee, 23 March 1917, Knoxville, Tennessee
He may not have been as prolific or celebrated as his brother Brownie, but guitarist Sticks McGhee cut some great boozy blues and R&B from 1947 to 1960, including the immortal “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”. Young Granville McGhee earned his nickname by pushing his polio-stricken older brother Brownie through the streets of Kingsport, TN, on a cart that he propelled with a stick.
“Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” was inspired by a song McGhee heard in boot camp in 1942. A pack of recruits sang an obscene song about getting loaded. After surviving war wounds in the Pacific, McGhee made his way to New York (where his brother Brownie was already living) and wrote his own arrangement of the wine song, with cleaned up lyrics. He recorded it in 1947 for the small Harlem label, with Brownie on guitar, but it sold poorly and was soon deleted from the Harlem catalog by its owner, J. Mayo Williams. Sometime during 1948, someone started playing McGhee’s record over the radio in New Orleans and soon there was a big demand for “Drinkin’ Wine”. Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records was told by one his distributors : “If you can find me 5,000 copies of that disc, I’ll really work on your record.” But copies of the Harlem single were very hard to get and Ertegun suggested to his partner Herb Abramson to record Atlantic’s own version.
Ertegun knew Brownie McGhee and told him on the phone that he was looking for someone to record a song called “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”. Brownie said “That’s my brother’s record!”. Ahmet replied: “No kidding! Do you know where I can get hold of him?” Brownie : “Sure, he’s right here”. Sticks came on the phone and Ahmet asked him if he had signed a contract when he recorded the song. Sticks said : “No man, I never signed nothing, they gave me $75 and a couple of hot dogs”. Ahmet : “Will you come with us and remake the song? We’ll give you $ 500 and a fair deal.” (Quotes from Ahmet Ertegun’s 2001 book “What ‘d I Say”, page 44.) So Sticks re-recorded “Drinkin’ Wine” on February 14, 1949, with a fuller backing, including Brownie McGhee on guitar and harmony vocals. It proved a massive hit (# 2 R&B, also # 26 pop) and has attracted countless covers over the years. Everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis (who recorded it at least four times, first in 1957) and Johnny Burnette to Wynonie Harris and Larry Dale has taken a sip from this particular wine flask. Mayo Williams sold his original 1947 master to Decca, who reissued it in an unsuccessful attempt to compete with the Atlantic hit. It was Atlantic’s first chart entry, after the label had already released over 200 singles since its incorporation in October 1947.
Inevitably, Sticks cooked up another jump tune based on the “Spo-Dee-O-Dee” formula : “Drank Up All the Wine Last Night, but it failed to make an impression on the charts ; nor did the next three Atlantic singles. The only Sticks McGhee record that made as big a splash as “Drinkin’ Wine” was an instrumental version of the “Tennessee Waltz”, which also went to # 2 R&B, in April 1951 (under the title “Tennessee Waltz Blues”). Early in 1951, McGhee violated his Atlantic contract by recording two sides for the London label, but he was not chucked from Atlantic’s roster. His last Atlantic session took place in December 1951. Sticks would spend the next eight years recording for Essex, King, Savoy and Herald, with no chart success. At King (1953-55) he recorded some more great booze numbers, like “Whiskey, Women and Loaded Dice”, “Head Happy With Wine”, “Jungle Juice”, “Six To Eight” and “Double Crossin’ Liquor”. His last record was the great double sider “Sleep In Job”/“Money Fever” for Herald (recorded 1959, released 1960).
Sticks McGhee was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1960 and died in the Bronx Veterans Hospital in August of 1961, aged only 44.
More info : http://home.earthlink.net/~jaymar41/sticksm.html
Acknowledgements : Bill Dahl, Ahmet Ertegun, Charlie Gillett.
Dik, March 2017
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