Musicians rally around local blues hero Guitar Shorty for a fundraiser to replace his stolen gear

By Bliss Bowen

Guitar Shorty lost $30,000 in gear when his touring van was stolen, but now his friends are helping him get back to performing Photo by Dan Monick

Guitar Shorty lost $30,000 in gear when his touring van was stolen, but now his friends are helping him get back to performing
Photo by Dan Monick

Early last month, veteran blues guitarist Guitar Shorty joined the ranks of musicians who’ve opened their house or motel doors to discover they’ve been robbed.

In a May 7 Facebook post, he wrote: “My touring van has been stolen this morning 3-6am near my house, soon after I got home from a show. A burgundy 2006 Ford van with a white 5×10 trailer. It has ‘Guitar Shorty’ written on the sides of the van. All of my guitars, amps and equipment and much more was there.”

The value of the items stolen was initially estimated to be $30,000; that number has since been revised upward.

Bassist Cra Z. Tomes immediately started a GoFundMe campaign to help underwrite the cost of replacing Shorty’s gear, and the music community has rallied with benefits, including an all-star jam two weeks ago with Coco Montoya, Tony Braunagel and Kirk Fletcher at Harvelle’s in Long Beach.

Another fundraising show is happening next Thursday, June 30, at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica. At press time, the Delgado Brothers, Dennis Jones, and Johnny Maines & the 44’s are scheduled to perform, along with Shorty’s band.

“I believe Shorty will play,” says Hunter & the Dirty Jacks guitarist Jon Siembieda, who is helping to coordinate the event. “And I’m talking to a couple of other guys. Jeff Dale, a Chicago blues guy who was Honeyboy Edwards’ musical director — he’ll do a set and open up. I’ll probably jam with him and Carmello Bonaventura, our lead guitar player.”

The theft is all the more egregious because of how much Guitar Shorty has contributed to local artists and causes, as well as the broader field of American rock and blues.

“Ever since the Delgado Brothers came on the blues scene in the late ’80s, Guitar Shorty has been a mentor, one of our favorite local heroes and friend,” says guitarist Joey Delgado. “We are honored to help him in any way we can get him back onstage where he belongs.”

Born David William Kearney in Houston in 1934, Shorty grew up in Florida, where he started playing as a kid and earned his stage name. A yearlong stint backing Ray Charles was followed by a New Orleans sojourn in Guitar Slim’s band; from there he moved to Los Angeles to play with Sam Cooke. Renowned for his slicing guitar tone and wild man stage antics, he worked the club circuit up and down the West Coast and into Canada, and recorded singles for Pull Records in L.A.

Eventually he married, and then made a fan of his wife Marcia’s half-brother: future rock legend Jimi Hendrix, who at the time was still enlisted in Army. As the story goes, Shorty introduced Hendrix to the wah pedal and loaned him one when Hendrix couldn’t afford to buy his own.

After an early-’70s hiatus when repairing cars held more allure (and steadier income) than touring, Shorty returned to making music. For the past two-and-a-half decades he’s been recording well-received albums; his most recent, “Bare Knuckle,” was released by Alligator Records in 2010.

“He’s inspiring because the guy’s 81 and he’s still rocking,” Siembieda says. “I saw him last summer when he did a charity show with Walter Trout and Arthur Adams, and he was killing it — he jammed with Walter and it was great. There’s a lot of great players, but he’s kind of the granddaddy of them all out there. And I think that’s why everybody looks up to him. He’s a nice, sweet guy. People are like, ‘I want to be rocking at 81 like him!’ He’s got that spiked guitar strap [laughs]. When we did a charity show, he rolled up in his van and he was cranking his album, and he was like, ‘Yo, what’s up?’ He’s a cool guy.”

It feels like every month — sometimes every week — there’s another Facebook post from bands asking fans to keep an eye out online and at pawn shops for their missing gear. Musicians are all too frequent targets of thieves; the Decemberists, Dinosaur Jr., Grimes, Mumford & Sons, Tom Petty, Portugal the Man, the Raveonettes and Sonic Youth all made the news in recent years when their gear was stolen.

It’s a steep loss for anyone, but especially so for independent artists whose careers can be stalled or even ended by the expense of replacing the tools of their trade.

“It’s ridiculous,” Siembieda says. “You know what I mean? It’s bad for anybody, and guys in my band have been robbed of gear. But that guy’s 81 and he took it real hard. He’s kind of shellshocked. It’s really sad. So we need to do something for Shorty.”

The Guitar Shorty Blues Benefit is at 9 p.m. Thursday, June 30, at Harvelle’s, 1432 4th St., Santa Monica. $10 minimum donation suggested. Call (310) 395-1676 to reach Harvelle’s or donate online at