Time for the Monday Morning Blues once again on Robert Frost’s Banjo! Hope you’re ready for some deep blues this morning.
Our featured song is “Louise” by the great Mississippi Fred McDowell. For those who’d like a more full biography of this seminal country blues figure, pleasure check out McDowell’s page on Allmusic. The brief version will follow:
Mississippi Fred McDowell actually wasn’t born in Mississippi, but in Rossville, Tennessee in 1904. In fact, he stayed in Tennessee until he was in his 20s, where he performed in Memphis & elsewhere as an itinerant street musician from his teenage years on. At that point he moved about 50 miles south to Como, Mississippi, which lies in the hill country just east of the Delta region. Here McDowell kept his music up on a semi-professional basis, but his main occupation was farming. He was finally “discovered” during the folk music revival of the 50s & 60s, & was only a full-time professional musician late in his life. I should note that tho the Delta area is more renowned, the hill country has also produced a number of notable musicians—in addition to McDowell, RL Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Junior Kimbrough & many others came from this region—in fact, McDowell was a mentor to a number of these musicians, including Burnside & Hemphill.
McDowell was known for his slide playing, which he learned as a child, apparently using a hollowed out steer bone as a slide when he was young. Later, McDowell favored glass slides. His guitar playing was also characterized by a heavy use of drone bass strings & by what are often one-chord harmonic structures. Don’t let the one-chord nature of a song like “Highway 61” or “You Got to Move” fool you, however—this is not “simple” music in any perjorative sense. The rhythms & the counterpoint are both complex.
As is the case with all this month’s Monday Morning Blues songs, “Louise” is played on electric guitar. Although Mississippi Fred McDowell famously proclaimed, “I don’t play no rock & roll,” he did play electric guitars a good bit—most of the McDowell videos on YouTube seem to feature him playing an electric.
This is a great song—hope you enjoy it!