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Furry Lewis Bio and Recordings

Furry Lewis Bio and Recordings

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Furry Lewis – In His Prime (Yazoo)

Furry Lewis – Shake ‘Em on Down

Heroes of the Blues The Very Best of Furry Lewis

Furry Lewis Good Morning Judge (Fat Possum Records 2003)

Walter E. Lewis was born March 6, 1893 in Greenwood Mississippi. When he was around seven years old his peers gave him the nickname of “Furry,” by which he became known as a famous songwriter and American blues guitarist. By the age of 15 he was performing on the streets, in taverns and parties and even with the renowned W.C. Handy. In the process, he encountered a number of the musical greats of the day, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith and Texas Alexander, who became influential in his music. As he got older he tired of the road and took a more stable and permanent job in 1922 as a street sweeper in the City of Memphis. And though he did attain a fair level of fame later in life, he held the street sweeping job until 1966 when he retired.

He made his first records in 1927 under the Vocalian label. “Rock Island Blues” was likely the first, an “A” side recorded in Chicago with guitarist Landers Waller. Over the next couple of years he also recorded for Victor occasionally with a other prominent artists of the day such as The Memphis Jug Band and Frank Stokes, but mostly accompanying himself on guitar. After a couple of records with Victor he returned to Vocalian to record again in 1929. By the end of the 1920’s he had recorded several successes, “Good Morning Judge”, (at the time called “Judge Harsh Blues”) ”Kassie Jones” and “Billy Lyons & Stack-O-Lee,” the traditional classic, among them. He did some private performances and a few public ones to pick up some extra cash, but he didn’t record again until 1969 when he stepped back into show business as a result of the 60’s folk/blues revival.

But it wasn’t surprising. His recordings had been re-released pretty regularly starting in around 1947 with a 4 10-inch ’78 album compilation produced by Alan Lomax with help from Dave Kapp called “Listen to Our Story – A Panorama of American Ballads” which contained “Billy Lyons and Stack ‘O Lee” titled as “Stackerlee” on Brunswick. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, labels like Brunswick and Folkways, Victor (now RCA), Fontana, Bluesville, Fantasy and, of course, Yazoo, continued to release collections of his tunes, by himself and with others, such as “Alexis Korner Presents Kings of the Blues Vol. 3. So, while he was not active, his songs were always on some blues compilation or another, reaching audiences in the U.S. and particularly, Europe.

In 1968 and ’69 producers like Bob West and Terry Manning recorded Lewis at home, Manning doing it live in bed at Furry’s home in Memphis with a couple of Sony condenser mics. He transferred the tunes directly to disc and released them in Europe through Barclay Records.

All this recording activity led to a whole new chapter in Furry Lewis’ life as he become the featured musician in the Memphis Blues Caravan where he played with “Sleepy” John Estes. He went on with his musical aspirations in full force and opened for the Rolling Stones, not once, but two times. He had a full profile in “Playboy” magazine and played on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1975 he was asked to play a part in the Burt Reynolds movie “W.W. And The Dixie Dance Kings.” Shortly after, his health began to decline. He slowly began to lose his vision due to cataracts. In 1981 he came down with pneumonia which exacerbated existing heart problems which led to his death of heart failure in September of 1981. He was 88 years old. Furry was laid to rest in the Hollywood cemetery in South Memphis. His works continued to be covered and re-released after his death.