Born: January 12, 1904 | Died: July 3, 1972 Primary Instrument: Guitar, slide
Mississippi Fred McDowell was a stylist and purveyor of the original Delta blues, he was superb, equal parts Charley Patton and Son House coming to the fore through his roughed-up vocals and slashing bottleneck style of guitar playing. McDowell knew he was the real deal, and while others were diluting and updating their sound to keep pace with the changing times and audiences, Mississippi Fred stood out from the rest of the pack simply by not changing his style one iota. He was a stunning master of the bottleneck guitar style, playing in open-chord country tunings.
Although generally lumped in with other blues rediscoveries from the '60s, the most amazing thing about him was that this rich repository of Delta blues had never recorded in the '20s or early '30s, didn't get discovered until 1959, and didn't become a full-time professional musician until the mid-'60s.
Fred McDowell was a master of Delta country blues and the slide guitar. His approach is not complex, but it has the feel. Some players can play the notes…Fred not only can play with feeling, but he also plays with that touch. Fred McDowell is the real deal, he was true to his Delta roots and stayed with his path his entire career.
Fred McDowell was born in 1904 in Rossville, Tennessee (McDowell didn't mind that they called him Mississippi since he ultimately settled in Mississippi in 1940). In his younger years, during the 1920's, he played for tips in Memphis. Finding that the musician hobo life wasn't for him, he settled down in Mississippi-- farming during the week-- and playing house parties, fish fries, and dances near his home for a few dollars and a little something to drink on the weekends.
It is hard to believe he wasn't recorded until folklorist Alan Lomax discovered him in 1959 and recorded him as a part of the American folk music series on Atlantic. Fred continued farming and playing for tips until Chris Strachwitz went looking for Fred in 1964 and recorded Fred McDowell. Volume 1 and Volume 2 on Arhoolie (now issued as Mississippi Delta Blues). Things really took off after these recordings.
Fred enjoyed performing dates at coffeehouses, the Newport Folk Festival, and became a member of the American Folk Blues Festival in Europe. The Rolling Stones invited him to Europe and the story goes that they bought him a silver-lame suit that he wore home to Como and was eventually buried in it. McDowell's covers of Baby Please Don't Go, Good Morning Little School Girl, and Jesus Is On The Mainline are classic delta style slide guitar classics.
In his own words, “I don’t play no rock n roll, just straight, natural blues.
Bio in part by Dr. Boom