Generation to Generation
One of the most treasured aspects of Archie’s Barbershop is the opportunity to share the stories and music of those who came
before us. Sadly, many of Archie’s contemporaries have now passed on, but they remain in our hearts.
We honor them at the Saturday jams by taking time for someone
who was privileged to know Archie or his friends tell a story – or a tall tale – that brings to life earlier times at the Barbershop and in African-American history. As we create our own stories and make our own music, we pass the tradition on to the new generations we meet at the Barbershop and in the community.
On this page, we present biographies of important members of
the Archie’s Barbershop family, beginning with those who have left this world but whose spirit lives on.
Archie Edwards was a bluesman, teacher, barber, and storyteller. A full biography on the Archie Edwards page tells a rich story about the life and times of this remarkable musician, educator, and friend. The Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation is dedicated to preserving his memory and carrying on his educational mission of keeping Piedmont blues alive.
Richard "Mr. Bones" Thomas
1922 - 2002
Mr. Bones was a fixture in the Washington music scene for at least seven decades. Born in Pomonky, MD on July 30, 1922, he was raised in Washington, DC from the age of six months.
He developed an interest in the bones at the age of six, after seeing a vaudeville
performance by Sammy Davis Jr. He crafted his first set of bones from a cigar box. He then began fashioning them from wood and finally settled upon using 6- to 7-inch beef rib bones -- a process that takes approximately nine months.
During World War II, he was drafted into the Army and was a member of the famous Red Ball Express. During the war, he earned four Battle Stars. After the war, he worked a series of jobs in both the private and public sector until his retirement.
Mr. Bones met Archie Edwards in 1989 at the recording of Blues and Bones. After making the recording, they performed at the Chicago Blues Festival, and in 1997, they performed at the St. Louis Blues Festival.
His percussion on the bones -- which sounds similar to castanets and tap drums -- was compatible with a wide range of musical genres, including blues, jazz, folk, and Latin. He can be heard on Blues and Bones with Archie Edwards; he also recorded with Michael Roach on the CDs “Ain't Got No Home” and “The Blinds of Life.”
His amazing talent on the bones and his winning personality made Mr. Bones a crowd favorite when he performed with members of the Barbershop. He was a hit at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Bull Durham Blues Festival, Blues in the Burg (where he was a featured performer), the DC Blues Society Festival, and other local festivals. He also performed community service benefit shows at hospitals, schools, and civic events.
Theorin B. O'Neil
1923 - 2002
Theorin O'Neil was from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which bordered on Franklin County, Archie's home. However, they did not meet and becomed friends until they both moved to the Washington, DC area.
Although Mr. O'Neil's guitar playing style was different from Archie's, their common roots were still evident.
Mr. O'Neil was a tall, reserved, and sober man. He was also shy and very dignified. He was a regular at the Barbershop for many years until his failing health prevented him from attending the Saturday sessions.
A truck driver for a moving firm until his retirement, Mr. O’Neill enjoyed gardening. He and his wife raised six children
1920 - 2002
Joe Watson was born in Goochland, Virgnia, and moved to Washington, DC in 1941. He worked at the Harrington Hotel for 40 years before retiring.
Joe and Archie were very good friends, as evidenced by their constant banter and insults aimed at each other. He played the guitar and sang. He is most famous for his song “Can Do Bad By Myself,” a Barbershop favorite.
Joe performed with the Barbershop at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Herndon Blues Festival. and other local festivals.
Joe had a gentle but fun-loving personality with a deep love and appreciation for the blues. He was a Barbershop regular until his health prevented him from participating.
1933 - 2009
A transplant from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, N.J. Warren has been impressing acoustic blues fans with his slow-down, low-down Delta-style guitar work.
N.J. is the real deal, with his guitar playing and singing evoking the late Lightnin' Slim and Silas Hogan.
N.J., an old friend of Archie Edwards, has been a regular at the Barbershop for decades, and has been a mentor to the younger people who come through our doors.
(Hear NJ perform “NJ Blues ” on our Sounds page.)
See N.J. Warren featured in this interview with Miles Spicer from the Washingtonpost.com.
1925 - 2012
"When Jazz was born, I was in the delivery room." -- Nap Brundage.
Nap was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 14, 1925. He was taken to Devereaux, Georgia at the age of two, and he moved to Washington, DC at the age of 12.
Nap plays the harmonica with the Barbershop and has performed at the Bull Durham Festival, Blues in the Burg, the DC Blues Society Festival, the Herndon Blues Festival, and other local venues.
Michel “Mike” Baytop
Mike Baytop is President of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation. Archie was his teacher and mentor, and he performed with Archie on harmonica and guitar during Archie’s later years.
Mike was born in Washington, DC in 1948, where he lived most of his life. His father introduced him to music when he gave him a harmonica. Later in life, he became truly interested in playing the blues he heard as he was growing up. Mike's harmonica sound is influenced by Charlie Sayles, Phil Wiggins and James Cotton. His guitar playing is influenced by Mississippi John Hurt, Larry Johnson, Jerry Ricks -- and by Archie Edwards, under whom he studied for many years. He learned to play bones from Richard "Mr. Bones" Thomas.
Mike performed with Archie at the Smithsonian Institute's 150th birthday celebration. In 1997 they played the 90th anniversary of the Niagara Group at Harper's Ferry, WV, and at the Rocky Gap Festival in Cumberland, MD, this time joined by Mr. Bones.
Mike has recorded on Michael Roach's CDs “Ain't Got No Home” (1994) and “Blinds of Life” (1996). They performed at the first Bluebird Festival at Prince George's College in 1994 and at the 11th annual DC Mayor's Arts Awards in 1995. Mike joined Michael Roach on a tour in England in 1966.
In demand as a performer, Mike has played at the Bull Durham Blues Festival, Blues in the Burg Festival, DC Blues Society Festival, the Smithsonian National Folklife Festival, and the Folk Festival at Ferrum College. He participated in the opening of the John Hurt Museum in Avalon, Mississippi. In 1998, Mike he played the role of the Bluesman in the play "I Am A Man." He also accompanies poet Theresa Davis on the harmonica during her poetry readings.
Mike has conducted workshops at Common Ground and has lectured and performed at the University of Maryland. He participates in the annual Percussion Discussion, a program for elementary schools. annually participates in the Percussion Discussion, a program for elementary schools. Other community service activities include performances at schools and civic events.
(Hear Mike perform “Special Agent” with Mr. Bones and Steve Levine, on our Sounds page.)
Eleanor Ellis, one of the founders of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation, was a friend of Archie's for many years, and often went to the barbershop for his Saturday afternoon get-togethers and jams. She and the late gospel singer Flora Molton, who Eleanor accompanied, also traveled and played music and did shows with Archie, both in the U.S. and on an extended European tour in the late 1980's.
Eleanor combines the rich musical heritage of her native Louisiana with a powerful attraction to the music of the old country blues masters. The result is a style of vocals and guitar that blends individual interpretation and expression with a feeling and intensity reminiscent of the originals -- such as Memphis Minnie, Mance Lipscomb, Sleepy John Estes, and Skip James -- who have been her musical inspiration.
She has performed at clubs, concerts and festivals in the United States, Canada and Europe, is a founding member of the DC Blues Society, has written about the Blues for several publications, and has produced a video documentary, "Blues House Party," which
features Archie Edwards along with other well known area Piedmont blues musicians such as John Jackson and John Cephas.
Her recordings include "Preaching in the Wilderness" on the Marimac label with Bill Ellis and Andy Cohen; appearances on several anthologies, including the 25th Anniversary Kent State Folk Festival collection and "Sisterfire: Music by Women" with the late gospel singer Flora Molton; two recordings with Flora Molton, "I Want to Be Ready to Hear God When He Calls" on Mrs. Molton's own Lively Stone label, and "Flora Molton," recorded for radio France; and several duets with blues artist Neil Harpe on a CD released in 2000.
(Hear Eleanor perform “Diving Duck” with Mike Baytop and Mr. Bones on our Sounds page.)
Miles Spicer, currently Assistant Treasurer of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation, was born in Washington, DC in 1962. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland.
Miles grew up in a home that appreciated and exposed him to many different types of music. His musical interests range from blues, funk and jazz to Cajun and classical. He began playing guitar in the early 1980s and credits his current musical path to his longtime associate David Jackson. Miles' influences include Archie Edwards, Bill Harris, John Cephas, and Mike Baytop.
Currently, Miles plays guitar with M.S.G., the Acoustic Blues Trio and the Riverdale Ramblers Cajun band. He also participates in most performances of Archie’s Barbershop. He has performed at the Bull Durham Blues Festival, the Smithsonian Institution Folklife Festival, the Washington Folk Festival, and the winter mini-fest of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington.
David Jackson was born in Culpepper Virginia in 1941 and is a distant relative of the late John Jackson. David got his first guitar from a neighbor in exchange for some farm work. The guitar was tuned to open E.