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Furry Lewis

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Memphis, Tennessee, USA (March 6, 1899 – September 14, 1981)

Furry Lewis (March 6, 1899 - September 14, 1981) was a blues guitarist from Memphis, Tennessee, USA. He was one of the first of the old-time blues musicians of the 1920s to be brought out of retirement by the folk blues revival of the 1960s.

Furry’s style of blues was in many ways typical of the songsters who operated in and around Memphis in the 1920s, for whom the value of a song was the story it told, and who tended to back their words with hypnotic repetitive riffs and subtle slide guitars. Furry Lewis’s soft voice and quick slide work were particularly effective in this style. He recorded many successful records in the late ’20s including “Kassie Jones”,Billy Lyons, Stack-O-Lee and Judge Harsh Blues (later called Good morning judge).

This success was limited to the race records of the time, cheap sides by black musicians for black customers. Furry received neither fame nor fortune for his efforts. In 1962, however, he was recorded by the folklorist Adrian Mitchell and his fortunes began to pick up. Before he died in 1981 Furry opened twice for the Rolling Stones, played on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show and had a part in a Burt Reynolds movie, some justice for this great player of the blues and his inimitable slide guitar style.

Joni Mitchell’s song, “Furry Sings the Blues” (on her Hejira album), is about Lewis. According to Wikipedia, Lewis despised the Mitchell song and demanded she pay him royalties.

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