A History of The Candyman
By Matthew Schwarzman
Over my many years in Santa Fe, the question I am asked most is, “How did you choose the name ‘The Candyman?’” Here’s how. Back in the ‘sixties there was a great renaissance in traditional American folk music from which came so many of the great musician-songwriters with whom we are so familiar today. Among the many icons that preceded them were two extraordinary guitarist-songsters: Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt (see photos below). Both shared something in common: each wrote a finger-picking masterpiece called “The Candyman.”
I had the rare opportunity to hear “The Blind Reverend Gary Davis,” as we called him in New York, sing “The Candyman” at the legendary Folklore Center owned by my colleague Izzy Young, who did so much to promote this art form. Even though I never saw Mississippi John Hurt perform, my guitar teacher Eddie Joe Hicks traded licks with him while both were performing in Washington, D.C.
“I’m the man that has the candy, I’m your Yankee Doodle Dandy,” sang George M. Cohen in the classic film by the same name. In the South at the turn of the century “the Candyman” was the man about town who had everything: not just drugs, which is inaccurately assumed, but he was the ladies’ man, the sporting man, and the man to whom you would most likely turn to spend some time with because he had the best songs and stories to be sung and told. This term has been in the American vernacular for many generations.
Mississippi John Hurt
When I traveled across the country in 1969 to open an acoustic guitar shop and finally—
and fortunately—arrived in Santa Fe, I called it “The Candyman,” of course.
Reverend Gary Davis