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Mississippi Fred McDowell


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Rossville TN, United States

Mississippi Fred McDowell was born Fred McDowell in Rossville, Tennessee, January 12, 1904. He died in Memphis,Tennessee on July 3, 1972. He was a singer and guitar player in the North Mississippi style.

His parents, who were farmers, died when McDowell was a youth. He started playing guitar at the age of 14 and played at dances around Rossville. Wanting a change from ploughing fields, 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 1940 or 1941, and worked steadily as a farmer, continuing to perform music at dances, and picnics. Initially he played slide guitar using a pocket knife and then a slide made from a beef rib bone, later switching to a glass slide for its clearer sound. He played with the slide on his ring finger.

A pure musician, he played “just the straight, natural blues,” and he “do not play no .” McDowell initially played the recognizable resonator guitar but, during tours and recordings beginning in the 1960s, he adopted the use of electric guitar and was probably the first original delta- or musician to do so. McDowell’s style is distinctive and recognizable; perhaps the dirtiest sounding guitarist ever and one of the most influential. The slide guitar styles of Bonnie Raitt as well as Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones, as well as Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys are all heavily influenced by McDowell’s technique.


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