March 12, 1896|
Jonesboro, Georgia, United States
|Died||January 29, 1976
Oakland, California, United States
|Occupations||Musician, singer, songwriter|
|Instruments||Guitar, vocals, harmonica, kazoo, cymbal, fotdella|
|Years active||Early 1950s–1976|
|Labels||Good Time Jazz, Arhoolie, various|
Early life 
Fuller was born in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta. He was sent by his mother to live with foster parents when he was a young child, in a rural setting where he was badly mistreated. Growing up, he worked a multitude of jobs: grazing cows for ten cents a day, working in a barrel factory, a broom factory, a rock quarry, on a railroad and a streetcar company, shining shoes, and even peddling hand-carved wooden snakes.
He came west and in the 1920s worked briefly as a film extra in The Thief of Bagdad and East of Suez. Eventually he settled in Oakland, California, across the bay from San Francisco, where he worked for the Southern Pacific railroad. During World War II, he worked as a shipyard welder, but when the war ended he found it increasingly difficult to find work. Around the early 1950s, Fuller's thoughts turned toward the possibility of making a living playing music.
Start of career 
Up to this point, Fuller had never worked professionally as a musician, but had certainly been exposed to music, and had learned to play guitar and picked up quite a number of songs: country blues, work songs, ballads, spirituals and instrumentals. And he had carried his guitar with him and played for money by passing the hat. When he decided to try to work as a professional, he found it hard to find other musicians to work with: thus his one-man band act was born.
Starting locally, in clubs and bars in San Francisco and across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley, Fuller became more widely known when he performed on television in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and in 1958 his recording career started with his first album on the Good Time Jazz record label. Fuller's instruments included 12-string guitar, harmonica, kazoo, cymbal (high-hat) and fotdella, several of which could be played simultaneously, particularly with the use of a head-piece to hold the harmonica and kazoo, often at the same time.
Much later, the Grateful Dead covered a few of Fuller's songs, including "The Monkey and the Engineer" and "Beat It on Down the Line". Others who have covered his work include Hot Tuna, Peter, Paul and Mary, Glenn Yarbrough, Richie Havens, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan, on his debut in 1962.
The fotdella 
The fotdella was a musical instrument of Fuller's own creation and construction. As a one-man band, the problem was how to supply a more substantial accompaniment than the typical high-hat (cymbal) or bass drum used by street musicians. Fuller's solution was the fotdella. It was a foot-operated percussion bass, consisting of a large upright wood box, shaped like the top of a double bass. Attached to a short neck at the top of this box were six bass strings, stretched over the body. And finally, there was the means to play those strings: six foot pedals, each connected to a padded hammer which struck the string, in a homemade wooden contraption.
The six notes of the fotdella allowed him to play a bass line in several keys, though he occasionally would play without it if a song exceeded its limited range.
The name was coined by his wife, who took to calling the instrument a "foot-diller" (as in a "killer-diller" instrument played with the foot), which was shortened to fotdella.
See also 
- One-man band
- List of blues musicians
- List of Country blues musicians
- List of Blues revival musicians
- List of Country blues musicians
- San Francisco Bay Blues
- List of guitarists by genre
- List of harmonicists
- Peter Siegel, liner notes to Friends of Old Time Music (Smithsonian Folkways, SFW40160) (link)
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 112. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Jesse Fuller: San Francisco Bay Blues, Good Time Jazz S10051, liner notes by Lester Koenig, October 19, 1963)
- Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed November 2009
- Van Ronk, Dave and Wood, Elijah. The Mayor of Macdougal Street, ISBN 978-0-306-81479-2
- Elijah Wald's article on Jesse Fuller
- A biography
- A 1971 KRON-TV documentary film about Jesse Fuller
- Illustrated Jesse Fuller discography
- Youtube video of Jesse Fuller playing "San Francisco Bay Blues"
- Jesse Fuller at the Internet Movie Database
- Jesse Fuller at Find a Grave