Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Old Furry Sings The Blues


Blues Master Furry Lewis sings and displays his versatile picking style while producer-songwriter Don Nix accompanies on acoustic guitar.


Every year during the first week of March, I am reminded of my annual birthday that just so happens to be the same birthday as Blues Legend Furry Lewis (deceased 9/14/81). Now, that may not mean anything to the casual observer but as a music lover it connects me personally with Furry Lewis because he and I are also from the same hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. In spite of the fact that I've been removed from the city of Memphis for over 20 years now, I'm still consumed with fond memories of the heydays of the local music scene. There was never a dull moment in the world of Memphis Music. During those memorable days my path would cross often with Furry Lewis at various music functions however we never actually met and he didn't know me from Adam. But in the imaginary world, and in his own words he might have said to me, "I never paid you no mind" which was a Furry Lewis euphemism. He had a million of those phrases to offer.

But Furry wasn't your cookie-cutter blues performer and displayed several characteristics that separated him from the pack. He was a small man, partially blind, with a wooden leg and known for pawning any of his personal possessions including his trusty guitar. His music style featured a bottleneck slide guitar and complimented with songs of complex verses and jerky movements. Occasionally he would swing his arms in performance to express musical punctuation. The first time I saw him perform was with The Blues Caravan at the Ellis Auditorium Music Hall in Memphis during the 70's. There he performed with other Blues Legends; Bukka White, Hammy Nixon and Sleepy John Estes, Mose Vinson, Ma Rainey, Big Sam and Piano Red. I feel fortunate to have witnessed these legends in their prime.

Furry was well recognized in the world of Blues Masters yet like many of his contemporaries, he never received widespread success. Perhaps the closest plateau to commercial success was when he was a guest vocalist on Don Nix's Enterprise album (Stax Records), "Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns." There he sang with Nix on the noted track, "Whey I Lay My Burden Down." The song received national airplay at FM Rock stations across the country and introduced him to a new generation of music enthusiast. Another milestone was when Furry opened for The Rolling Stones at their Liberty Bowl performance in 1976.

Perhaps his most memorable appearance was on national television on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. Sitting beside Carson at his desk, Johnny leaned over and asked him, "Furry, at your age, why haven't you ever been married?" Furry pondered the question for a few seconds and then responded, "Why should I get a wife when my next door neighbor already has one."

Happy Birthday Furry!

Recommended listening is a classic song written about Furry Lewis from Joni Mitchell's Hejira album;


FURRY SINGS THE BLUES
by Joni Mitchell

Old Beale Street is coming down
Sweeties' Snack Bar boarded up now
And Egles the Tailor and the Shine Boy's gone
Faded out with ragtime blues
Handy's cast in bronze
And he's standing in a little park
With a trumpet in his hand
Like he's listening back to the good old bands
And the click of high heeled shoes
Old Furry sings the blues
Propped up in his bed
With his dentures and his leg removed
And Ginny's there
For her kindness and Furry's beer
She's the old man's angel overseer

Pawn shops glitter like gold tooth caps
In the grey decay
They chew the last few dollars off
Old Beale Street's carcass
Carrion and mercy
Blue and silver sparkling drums
Cheap guitars eye shades and guns
Aimed at the hot blood of being no one
Down and out in Memphis Tennessee
Old Furry sings the blues
You bring him smoke and drink and he'll play for you
lt's mostly muttering now and sideshow spiel
But there was one song he played
I could really feel

There's a double bill murder at the New Daisy
The old girl's silent across the street
She's silent waiting for the wrecker's beat
Silent staring at her stolen name
Diamond boys and satin dolls
Bourbon laughter ghosts history falls
To parking lots and shopping malls
As they tear down old Beale Street
Old Furry sings the blues
He points a bony finger at you and says
"I don't like you"
Everybody laughs as if it's the old man's standard joke
But it's true
We're only welcome for our drink and smoke

W. C. Handy I'm rich and I'm famous
And I'm not familiar with what you played
But I get such strong impressions of your hey day
Looking up and down old Beale Street
Ghosts of the darktown society
Come right out of the bricks at me
Like it's a Saturday night
They're in their finery
Dancing it up and making deals
Furry sings the blues
Why should I expect that old guy to give it to me true
Fallen to hard luck
And time and other thieves
While our limo is shining on his shanty street
Old Furry sings the blues

Copyright 1976; Crazy Crow Music

2 Comments:

Blogger Jon Scott said...

Cool story!!

1:43 PM  
Blogger paddy said...

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Y;-)

6:48 AM  

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