Up there with Blind Lemon Jefferson in the pantheon of 1920s blues music stands Robert Hicks, better known as Barbecue Bob, an Atlanta native that found fame in the late 1920s as one of the top “race” stars for Columbia records. Over the course of his short recording career, Hicks waxed sixty-eight sides.
Born September 11, 1902 in Walnut Grove, Georgia, Robert Hicks and his brother Charlie, along with Curley Weaver, learned to play guitar from Weaver’s mother. While working as a pitmaster at an Atlanta barbecue joint, Hicks was discovered by Columbia records talent scout Dan Hornsby (who also worked as a musician and is known for his association with Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers.) Taking his recording name from his work, he made his first recording in March 1927, titled “Barbecue Blues”, which may have been named by the Columbia staff to fit his gimmick, as the lyrics make no reference to barbecue in any way. Hicks went on to record many more sides between then and December 1930, both solo and as part of Georgia Cotton Pickers. Robert Hicks died from tuberculosis and pneumonia on October 21, 1931.
Columbia 14222-D was recorded June 15, 1927 in New York City by Barbecue Bob, accompanied by his own twelve-string guitar. The DAHR says that both takes 1 and 2 of both sides were issued, these are both first takes. These are the first two sides from Barbecue Bob’s second recording session, and his second issues record. This was probably one of the most successful country blues records of the 1920s.
It is said that the record of “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” was played at Hicks’ funeral in 1931. The song makes reference to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. Beginning in April 1927, the floods caused widespread devastation in the Mississippi Delta, submerging more than 23,000 square miles and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. The disaster and its widespread effects were chronicled in a number of songs of the era, including this one. Hicks’ witty songwriting stands out in the line, “Mississippi shakin’, Lou’siana sinkin’, whole town’s a-ringin’, Robert Hicks is singing.”
Following a similar structure as the previous song, on “Mama You Don’t Suit Me!”, Hicks sings of his gal, who drives a Willys-Knight and “doesn’t suit him like his other mama did.”