John Henry Fortescue, known as “Guitar Shorty,” was a blues guitarist, singer and musical storyteller with an inventive style. Originally from Belhaven – also the hometown of Little Eva of Loco-Motion fame – Guitar Shorty had an assertive style heavy on boogie beats and often used a bottleneck slide.
He lived near Elm City in the early 1970s. Were he living today, he might be identified first as a performance artist, and then a blues musician. He was a small man who played a big guitar spangled with flower decals. Some of his recorded performances were on-the-spot improvisations, elaborate stories supported by his guitar backup in much the same way a soundtrack supports the plot of a movie.
Shorty’s song-stories sometimes incorporated conversations between two and three characters—including himself, his mother, his wife, a determined would-be girlfriend, animals, and FBI agents. He performed all the voices, in addition to singing, whistling, imitating harmonica lines, and producing sound effects.