Mississippi Fred McDowell
(January 12, 1906 - July 3, 1972)
The father of the hill country blues was born in Tennessee where both his parents died when he was still a boy. He began playing guitar at 14 years old. He played at dances around his hometown and worked in agriculture until he moved to Memphis in 1926, where he worked numerous jobs and played for tips. Two years later he moved to Mississippi, where he picked cotton, farmed in the Delta and near the town of Holly Springs. He settled in Como around 1950, where he often entertained at local dances with harmonica player Johnny Woods. McDowell was a major influence on a younger generation of area bluesmen such as RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Alan Lomax recorded him in 1959, leading to wider recognition and a recording career; he was a star of the folk blues revival in the 1960s, touring the US and Europe. Although he famously declared, "I do not play no rock and roll", he tutored singer and guitarist Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar, and the Rolling Stones covered his version of "You Got to Move'' in 1971. He passed away from cancer a year later. Fred McDowell will always represent the foundation of the hill country style. He lives on through his music and the scores of musicians he taught and influenced.
Art by Corey Harris
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