Photo by Yuri Catania

Charley Crockett, who got his start in music playing on streets and in subways, will perform with his band The Blue Drifters, at The Earl in East Atlanta Village on April 25.

Crockett says he grew up poor in East Texas and his mother, to keep him out of trouble, talked a friend into buying him a guitar in a pawnshop. Crockett learned to play well enough to earn a little money playing in parks. His mother sent him to his uncle who had a restaurant in New Orleans and that is where his real education began.

He listened to every kind of music on the streets of New Orleans from gospel to bluegrass to traditional  jazz. He went to Royal Street in the French Quarter everyday at 7 a.m. to find his spot. Then he and his band of four would play all day.

His band learned to swing and turn heads. They played old blues songs by A.P. Carter and Ledbelly. Crockett says there most successful number was “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein,” a song the Andrews Sisters made popular in the ’40’s, and they would sometimes play it over a hundred times a day for the tourists.

Crockett hitch-hiked all around the country and traveled to Europe and Morrocco. He spent time in New York City where where he plied his trade in the subway. He also began participating in blues jams and learned how to lead a blues band. Crockett went back to Texas and formed a band that played the honky-tonk circuit. He found a manager and his career started to gel. He recorded “Lil. G.L.’s Honky-Tonk Jubilee,” which featured songs from musicians he admired including Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn. He says for every great song he’s learned, he’s been inspired to write six more. Other teachers include Bill Withers, Jimmy Reed and Curtis Mayfield.

His latest album, “Lonesome As a Shadow” was recorded in Memphis at the historic Sam Phillips Recording Studio. Crockett wanted to explore the Memphis Sound and record in the studio where Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash once recorded.

Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist, writer and musician.