Freddie Green's Nickname of "Pepperhead"

After joining the Basie band, Freddie Green acquired the nickname "Pepperhead." It is not known who gave him this nickname, though Lester Young certainly is a prime suspect as he made up names for nearly every musician he knew, "Lady Day" being his most widely known invention.

Over the years, "Pepperhead" was shortened to "Pepper" and then to "Pep." Many incorrect theories have been written regarding the origin of "Pepperhead."

  1. Freddie added "pep" to the rhythm section.
    * Not true because "Pep" was short for "Pepperhead," though his guitar certainly added vitality to any rhythm section.
  2. Freddie liked hot sauce on his food and thus was a "pepperhead."
    * Not true according to Freddie's son, Al Green. Al never saw his father use hot sauce while eating or cooking.
  3. Freddie's hair looked like "pepper" as it was black, gray, and white.
    * Not true as Freddie acquired the nickname early in his career before his hair started to turn gray.
  4. Freddie's head was shaped like a bell "pepper."
    * Not true; photos of Freddie do not support this odd theory.

In June 2006 at the ASCAP event in New York City that honored Basie alumni Freddie Green, saxophonist Frank Foster, and trumpeter Clark Terry, the great and hilarious Mr. Terry offered this plausible explanation for the name "Pepperhead":

"When Freddie would get his hair cut short, the hair on the nape of his neck would curl up into little tiny balls that looked like peppercorns. He sat in front of the trumpet section so we'd be looking at the back of his neck all night. Someone in the trumpet section started calling him 'Pepperhead' and that's how he got the nickname 'Pep'."

Michael Pettersen
July 2006

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