Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jan. 12: Blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell was born on this date in 1904...

... he died on July 3, 1972 at 68 years-old.

Fred McDowell was born in Rossville, Tennessee, near Memphis. He started playing guitar at the age of 14 and played at dances around Rossville.

He moved to Memphis in 1926 where he worked in a number of jobs and played music for tips. He settled in Como, Mississippi, about 40 miles south of Memphis, in the early 1940s and worked as a farmer while performing at dances and other social gatherings.

At first, McDowell played slide guitar using a pocket knife and then a slide made from a beef rib bone. He later switched to a glass slide attached on his ring finger. (SEE VIDEO.)

Nicknamed " Mississippi Fred," he is often considered a Delta Blues singer. It's more accurate to describe him as the first of the bluesmen from the North Mississippi region, which is east of the Delta region.

(Press album cover for direct link to the entire Amazon Website):
Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Fred McDowell


The rhythm he produced on the guitar was close in structure to its African roots - which often used the "hypnotic effect" of a droning, single chord vamp rather than a pattern of chord changes. The North Mississippi style was also played by Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside, and lead to the founding of the Fat Possum record label of Oxford, Mississippi.

There was growing interest in blues and folk music during the 1950s, and McDowell played a key role in elevating and bringing the sound to the public - once his first recordings came to light in 1959.

Mississippi Fred's records were popular, and he performed often at a variety of venues. He continued to perform in the North Mississippi blues style as he had for decades, but also added an electric guitar to his acoustic sound. McDowell's 1969 album I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll was his first featuring electric guitar

Despite his claim that "I do not play no rock and roll," he often associated with rock musicians. He helped teach Bonnie Raitt slide guitar technique, and was flattered by The Rolling Stones' rather straightforward, authentic version of his "You Gotta Move" on their 1971 Sticky Fingers album.

McDowell's final album, Live in New York, was a concert performance from November 1971 at the Village Gaslight (aka The Gaslight Cafe), Greenwich Village, New York.

McDowell died of cancer in 1972. On August 6, 1993 a memorial was placed on his grave site by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund. The ceremony was presided over by Dick Waterman, and the memorial with McDowell's portrait upon it was paid for by Bonnie Raitt.


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