Daddy Stovepipe, real name Johnny Watson, was born in Mobile, Alabama, in April 1867.   A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, Daddy Stovepipe may well have been the earliest-born blues performer to record. He was 57 years old when he became one of the first, if not the first, blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930’s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings. Among other aliases he worked under during his long life were Jimmy Watson and the Rev. Alfred Pitts.

His career began around 1900 in Mexico as a twelve-string guitarist in early mariachi bands. He went on to establish himself as an entertainer with the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels, the famous southern traveling tent show that also gave rise to the careers of Ma Rainey, Jaybird Coleman, Brownie McGhee, Louis Jordan, Jim Jackson, and others. Settling into the role of a one-man band, Daddy Stovepipe then worked as an itinerant street musician, and in May 1924 he made his way to Richmond, Indiana and recorded the first two of the 16 tracks that he would record during the pre war era. These are among the most primitive blues performances on record, with "Sundown Blues" played in a jaunty 6/8 time. In July 1927 Gennett's mobile unit recorded Daddy Stovepipe in Birmingham, Alabama with a whistler named Whistlin' Pete, about whom nothing else is known. In 1931 Daddy Stovepipe was recorded by the ARC mobile facility in Chicago for Vocalion's race series. For these sessions he was partnered by his wife, Mississippi Sarah. She was a good singer and an expert jug player, and the couple's humorous back and forth banter make the sides they made together a very special side attraction in recorded blues. Eight titles were made by the duo in Chicago in 1931, and the remaining four followed in 1935 for Bluebird.

 Afterward, the "Stovepipes" settled down in Greenville, Mississippi and Daddy Stovepipe left the music business. Sarah Watson's unexpected death in 1937 sent her husband back out on the road and for the next few years he played the American Southwest and in Mexico. For a time during the 1940’s Daddy Stovepipe played in zydeco bands in Louisiana and Texas, but by 1948 he was back on Maxwell Street, where he was working at the time of his “rediscovery”. He recorded again in 1960, recording such unpromising offerings as his versions of "Tennessee Waltz" and the jump tune "Monkey and the Baboon." By that point he was 93 years old and not sounding particularly great. Just three years later Daddy Stovepipe died after surgery to remove his gall bladder led to bronchial pneumonia. Not particularly remembered for the quality of his blues music, Daddy Stovepipe was, nevertheless, a true blues pioneer and an artist who’s contribution to the development of modern blues should not be overlooked.

Johnny "Daddy Stovepipe" Watson should not be confused with Cincinnati-based one-man-band Sam Jones, who recorded under the odd name of Stovepipe No.1  at about the same time as Daddy Stovepipe made his first recordings. These two musicians make an interesting contrast. They both accompanied themselves on harmonica and guitar, but Johnny Watson gained his nickname from the stovepipe hat he wore, whereas Stovepipe No.1 actually played a stovepipe, in a manner similar to a jug. In another contrast Daddy Stovepipe played the blues almost exclusively on his early records, but used a straight harp style more associated with white folk music. Stovepipe No.1 on the other hand used a bluesy cross harp style, but his issued recordings featured primarily non-blues material.

 (To add to further potential confusion, another artist, McKinley Peebles, recorded under the name Sweet Papa Stovepipe.)