From Labor to Music

Jesse Fuller

Jesse Fuller was born on March 12th in 1896 in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta. His early life consisted of “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.” But his musical interests began just as early and was “frailing” and “picking” at the age of 10. In the 1920s he moved to Southern California but in 1929 he went north and settled in Oakland where he worked for the Southern Pacific railroad as a fireman, spike driver, and maintenance-of-way worker. After he married his wife Gertrude and started a family, World War II hit and it became “increasingly difficult to secure employment.” It was in the 1950s that Fuller began to make a career out of music. He had begun by carrying his guitar around with him and “busked for money by passing the hat.” His memory for songs allowed him to gather large crowds and to please varying tastes in music. After attempts to create ensembles with other musicians he took on the name “The Lone Cat” or Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller and proclaimed himself as a “one-man band.” He worked his way through clubs and bars in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, and finally reaching wide acclaim when he performed on television in 1958. In his performances he often played multiple instruments simultaneously and accompanied his own dance performances while playing a 12-string guitar. His character as someone who told “humorous anecdotes and cracked jokes between pieces” further created the incredibly image of a unique performer that was larger than life. During his musical career Fuller created his own musical instrument called the fotdella: a foot operated percussion bass. He was able to play the six pedals of the fotdella like a piano using his foot. At the age of 79, Jesse Fuller passed away in January 1976 in Oakland, California from heart disease and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland.

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Yesenia Checa, “From Labor to Music,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed October 22, 2018,

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