Guitar Gabriel was born Robert Lewis Jones in Decatur, Georgia on October 12, 1925. His father Sonny Jones was a blues legend who recorded with BlindBoy Fuller. Gabe loved his father’s music and fell asleep every night with the guitar wrapped in his arms, exhausted from learning his father’s guitar style.
When World War II broke out, Gabriel served his country in the army. When he returned, the African-American youth of America was bopping to the blues. Gabriel soon left Winston-Salem again and headed for Nashville, Detroit, St.Louis, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, and other cities playing his music. In the Old South he found refuge from racism in show work. He began with old-time medicine shows, the first being an old Cherokee man named Chief Wahoo. Gabriel would play the guitar and draw a crowd, allowing his boss to pitch his medicines.
Later, he was hired as a musician with the Dixie Classic fair and this is where he took on the stage name Guitar Gabriel. The seven-piece band played Dixieland, blues and marches in the big top tent. Later in the night the band would play for the burlesque show. At midnight the admission would be raised and the children cleared out, the women would bare more and the musicians played the blues. After several years with the fair, he headed his own band named Guitar Gabriel and the Troubadours. During the winter months he would begin to hobo and play from town to town.
I located Guitar Gabriel in March 1991 and began accompanying him as second guitarist on acoustic sets and as a member of his band, Brothers in the Kitchen, Gabriel began performing frequently at clubs and festivals. We went on to perform at festivals in Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and throughout the United States, including performances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
Gabe died April 2nd 1996, just as he was reaping the recognition and acclaim the world had withheld for so long. He was the grand inspiration for Music Maker. His spirit was strong but his body destroyed by a life lived hard. He is with us today in mission of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, to seek out his extant peers in the blues community and bring their talents to the fore while they yet survive among us.