James "Jimmy" Spruill (June 9, 1934 - February 15, 1996) also known as Wild Jimmy Spruill, was an American New York based session guitarist, whose guitar solos featured on many rhythm and blues and pop hits of the 1950s and 1960s.
Early life and success:
Spruill was born into a sharecropping family in Fayetteville, North Carolina, United States. As a child he listened to both country music and blues. He learned to play guitar, first with a cigar box guitar with an elastic band, and then graduating within a few years to a Fender Telecaster and Standel amplifier. Later in his career, he took to playing a Gibson Les Paul which he "modified" by sawing off most of the body.
He moved to New York City in 1955, and began working as a session musician. He most frequently worked for the record producers Danny and Bobby Robinson, who ran the Fire, Fury, Everlast, Enjoy and VIM record labels based at Bobby Robinson's Happy House of Hits record store in Harlem. He also worked for the Old Town, Vanguard and other New York-based labels, and appeared on records by King Curtis, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Shirelles, Tarheel Slim, and Elmore James, as well as releasing singles under his own name.
In May 1959 "The Happy Organ" by Dave "Baby" Cortez reached the top of the Billboard pop chart and was succeeded, the following week, by Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City"; both records featured guitar solos by Spruill. Another well-known recording on which Spruill plays is "Fannie Mae" by Buster Brown, which hit the top of the R&B charts in early 1960. In 1961, he featured on Bobby Lewis's no.1 hit "Tossin' and Turnin'", and at the same time featured on The Shirelles' "Dedicated to the One I Love", which peaked at no.3. He is rumored to have played on Aretha Franklin's "Respect" sessions, and although uncredited, may be somewhere in the mix providing his original "scratching" rhythm guitar. He undoubtedly played without credit on many other well-known rhythm and blues and rock and roll records.
Spruill was a showman, known for playing guitar with his teeth. His sound was unconventional, notable for its hard attack and sense of freedom, unexpectedly going from assertive lead parts to rhythmically dynamic, scratching rhythms. At no time did Spruill use picks or any effects on his guitar - his sound was solely the result of his fingers. Among his most interesting solo records is "Hard Grind" (Fire 1006), which was originally issued as the B-side to "Kansas City March". Other solo sides include "Slow Draggin'", "Cut and Dried", "Scratchin' Twist", and "Slow Draggin".
Later life and death:
Spruill formed an East Coast nightclub trio in the mid-1960s, with singer Tommy Knight and drummer Popsy Dixon (now with The Holmes Brothers). In the 1970s and 1980s, he worked as an interior decorator in New York City, working occasional music gigs when the opportunity arose, and made at least one European tour with guitarist/singer Larry Dale and pianist/singer Bob Gaddy whose older records he had played on. He died from a heart attack while traveling on a bus from Florida, where he had been visiting his family and saxophonist Noble "Thin Man" Watts, back to his home in The Bronx on February 15, 1996.
Spruill's work may be found on a number of compilation albums, including the following:
Great R&B Instrumentals, Ace Records: 819 ("Hard Grind"),
New York Wild Guitars, (P-Vine) (Japanese compilation),
Scratch 'n Twist, Night Train International: NTI CD 7150 - "Rare and Unreissued New York Rhythm and Blues, 1956-1962"