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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Furry's Blues - Furry Lewis



I saw this Leon Russell special on PBS may years ago and Furry lewis was featured on it. He demonstrates some of that famous "John Lee Hooker" timing for his singing.

Walter E. Lewis was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, but his family moved to Memphis when he was aged seven. Lewis acquired the nickname "Furry" from childhood playmates. By 1908, he was playing solo for parties, in taverns, and on the street. He also was invited to play several dates with W. C. Handy's Orchestra.

His travels exposed him to a wide variety of performers including Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Alger "Texas" Alexander. Like his contemporary Frank Stokes, he tired of the road and took a permanent job in 1922. His position as a street sweeper for the City of Memphis, a job he would hold until his retirement in 1966, allowed him to remain active in the Memphis music scene.

In 1927, Lewis cut his first records in Chicago for the Vocalion label. A year later he recorded for the Victor label at the Memphis Auditorium in a session with the Memphis Jug Band, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, and others. He again recorded for Vocalion in Memphis in 1929. The tracks were mostly blues but included two-part versions of "Casey Jones" and "John Henry". He sometimes fingerpicked, sometimes played with a slide. He recorded many successful records in the late 1920s including "Kassie Jones", "Billy Lyons & Stack-O-Lee" and "Judge Harsh Blues" (later called "Good Morning Judge").

In 1969, Lewis was recorded by the record producer, Terry Manning, at home in Lewis' Beale Street apartment. These recordings were released in Europe at the time by Barclay Records, and then again in the early 1990s by Lucky Seven Records in the United States, and again in 2006 by Universal. Joni Mitchell's song, "Furry Sings the Blues", (on her Hejira album) is about Lewis and the Memphis music she experienced in the early 1970s. Lewis despised the Mitchell song and demanded she pay him royalties.

In 1972 he was the featured performer in the Memphis Blues Caravan, which included Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes, Clarence Nelson, Hammy Nixon, Memphis Piano Red, Sam Chatmon, and Mose Vinson.

Before he died, Lewis opened twice for The Rolling Stones, played on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, and had a part in a Burt Reynolds movie, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), and had a profile in Playboy magazine.

Lewis began to lose his eyesight because of cataracts in his final years. He contracted pneumonia in 1981, which led to his death from heart failure on 14 September of that year, at the age of 88.[5] He is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in South Memphis, where his grave bears two headstones, the second purchased by fans.
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