Little Buster, a blind African-American blues guitarist/singer, died May 11th in a nursing home on Long Island, NY. The self-taught musician, whose real name was Edward James Spivey-Forehand, was 63.
Buster was born in Hertford, North Carolina in 1942. From his earliest years, Buster sang gospel music in local churches and played the piano. Buster had serious vision difficulties that required medical attention, something that was not available in North Carolina. Although his father took him to Philadelphia for medical treatments, Buster’s vision deteriorated. By age 13, Buster was placed in the North Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, almost 150 miles from his home. During the summer he stayed with his Aunt Queen Williams, who regularly entertained visiting musicians. “I came home one summer from school. My Aunt had a six-string guitar, but it only had three strings working. I started messing around with it. I started singing, and people were coming from everywhere just to listen to me.”
Buster learned to pick from Pumpkin Jones and B. L. Thatch, practicing what he learned at Hertford’s Baptist and Methodist churches. As a result “Everything that I do has a little gospel in it – I’m spiritually inclined.” Like other traditional musicians, Buster earned his modest wages through donations. “You’ve got to love what you’re doing because there’s not a lot of money involved. I used to get my money by donations. It wasn’t easy.”
At age 16, Buster and his friend Melvin Taylor went to Philadelphia for a record deal which did not materialize. They hitched a ride to Westbury, New York, where Buster’s sister lived. In 1959, they began playing in local clubs such as The New Cassel Inn, the Prospect Haven and the Bar-B-Q Inn in Westbury. In 1961, Buster composed his first original song “Looking for a Home” while living in Glen Cove.
Buster was married to Mary Forehand in 1969. When they were first married, Buster played at the Celebrity Club in Freeport and the Highway Inn in Roosevelt, where Wilson Pickett and Gladys Knight and the Pips also performed. It was during the late 1960s and early 1970s that “white” clubs began hiring African American musicians. Buster played at the Hotel James in Manhasset, the Right Track Inn in Freeport and the Oak Beach Inn in Babylon.