Arthur Crudup (pronounced Crude-up) was born in 1905 in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up in Forest, a town 40 miles west. He worked mainly as a sharecropper but also as a levee worker, logger and sanitation worker.
He also sang in church choirs and with the gospel group, The Harmonizing Four.
In 1939 he took up the guitar, and the following year he moved to Chicago, where he played on street corners. At night he slept in a pasteboard carton stuck in a crevice under the 39th Street “L” train bridge, waking at 5:00 am before the police could roust him.
Crudup was discovered by Tampa Red, a known blues singer, and Lester Melrose, a talent scout for Bluebird Records and its parent company, RCA-Victor.
He made several recordings for Melrose, released on Bluebird and later RCA, from 1941 to 1956. He would cut a song, receive the customary “recording fee”, and leave the studio. Like most of the others in the Melrose stable, Crudup got screwed horribly.
During this time, at the height of his popularity, he worked days on a farm when the crops were good or as a sanitation man. At night he would play local bars.
In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded the Crudup composition That’s All Right Mama (originally released in 1946) as his first record and later did two other Crudup songs. Sadly, Arthur received no royalties from Melrose or RCA.
In the late 1960s, like many old bluesmen, Crudup broke a long retirement on the heels of the revived interest in the blues on the part of white teenagers.
In 1968, Crudup met Dick Waterman, agent and manager for numerous blues artists, and Waterman began a long, frustrating fight for Crudup’s royalty rights on the many compositions which had been recorded by other artists.
Finally, in late 1972, a settlement was reached, and Crudup was told he would receive $60,000 for outstanding royalties.
Unfortunately, Julian Aberbach (president of Hill & Range, Crudup’s publisher) refused to sign an agreement because he felt the settlement gave away more than he would lose in a legal action.
At the age of 68, Crudup was hospitalised after suffering a heart attack on 21 January 1974 at his hotel in Georgetown, Washington DC, while on a short tour with Bonnie Raitt.
He was hospitalised again in March after suffering a stroke from which he never regained consciousness.
Crudup died in the Nassawadox hospital in Northampton County, Virginia, on 28 March 1976. He was survived by 13 sons and daughters, ranging in age from 17 to 43.