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Mississippi Fred McDowell
September 23, 2008 6:00 AM   Subscribe

When the Rolling tones recorded an old blues tune called You Gotta Move on Sticky Fingers back in 1971, it was another instance of a tune by an old black man, known only to blues aficionados, suddenly becoming part of the consciousness of a gazillion people who probably never would've heard it otherwise. But let's pay a little visit to the man who originally wrote and recorded the song, Mississippi Fred McDowell, shall we? Here's a jumping version of Shake 'em On Down, his haunting Going Down to the River, the gospel blues of When I Lay My Burden Down, Highway 61, My Babe (you'll note the similarity to "This Train"), Louise, and his version of the American folk/blues standard John Henry. And don't miss the beautiful 1969 documentary featuring McDowell at Internet Archive, Blues Maker, which features some superlative acoustic performances, and footage of the people and environment of the Mississippi delta country.
posted by flapjax at midnite (40 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah! I love the Rolling tones!
posted by smackwich at 6:07 AM on September 23, 2008


Rolling tones ather o moss.
posted by ericb at 6:11 AM on September 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah! I love the Rolling tones!

Ha ha! Yeah, they were much better than that more famous outfit out of England with the similar name...

*bing-bong* ... Mod to aisle 75086 ... mod to aisle 75086 ...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:13 AM on September 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Sticky Fingers is a bad-ass album, and the bluesmen who homage-enized on it are also bad-ass.
posted by Mister_A at 6:34 AM on September 23, 2008


Mississippi Fred was one of the best. In addition to bringing the North Mississippi chops to Delta blues, he was a huge factor in Bonnie Raitt's sucess. He taught her a lot of her slide technique, and she was "discovered" while she was his opening act.

She paid him back by championing blues pioneers like Mississippi Fred, Sippie Wallace, Charles Brown, and many others. She even paid for the memorial at Mississippi Fred's grave.

Thanks, flapjax. Great post, as usual.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:34 AM on September 23, 2008


*were*
posted by Mister_A at 6:34 AM on September 23, 2008


Good one Flapjax, thanks.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:36 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah! I love the Rolling tones!

Who can forget their big hit "tart Me Up"
posted by jonmc at 6:36 AM on September 23, 2008 [9 favorites]


Is it just me that wants to kick the shit out of whoever wrote that review of Sticky Fingers? Gods, that is just a horrible review.
posted by Ber at 6:41 AM on September 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Who can forget their big hit "tart Me Up"

While I enjoy the earlier stuff like "Heart of Tone" and "Play with Ire," I confess I also enjoy some of the early eighties tracks, like "She's So Old."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:46 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


and that classic "Tumblin' Ice."
posted by jonmc at 6:49 AM on September 23, 2008


Mississippi Fred was a bad ass.
posted by Senator at 6:54 AM on September 23, 2008


Damn kids. Get off my loud.

That Going Down to the River is fantastic.
posted by mandal at 6:54 AM on September 23, 2008


he was a huge factor in Bonnie Raitt's sucess

But it says so much that her commercial success was never his. The good looking, white woman Raitt was "discovered," and the scruffy black man McDowell whose talented shoes she was not fit to shine was overlooked.

We seem to like our old, black Delta blues best when it's played by young, white people.

But so nice to listen to some of the real stuff! Thanks flapjax.
posted by three blind mice at 7:02 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]



*bing-bong* ... Mod to aisle 75086 ... mod to aisle 75086 ...

That alone was worth the trip here.

Here's Baby Please Don't Go, with the famous interview excert that provided McDowell's tag line, an album title and numerous college radio program titles:
My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Mississippi Fred McDowell, but my home is in Rossville Tennesseee. . . and I do not play no rock'n'roll, y'all, I just play the straight natural blues. . . only way you can rock Fred you have to put him in rockin' chair, understand, that's my kinda rockin'.
posted by Herodios at 7:04 AM on September 23, 2008


I wouldn't say that Bonnie Raitt isn't fit to shine Fred's shoes. She is quite an accomplished guitar player herself. Also, remember that Fred learned at the feet of some forgotten musician many decades ago. I agree that it stinks that Fred is remembered only by a few aficionados, but this does not somehow make Bonnie Raitt unworthy of her success.
posted by Mister_A at 7:07 AM on September 23, 2008


The good looking, white woman Raitt was "discovered," and the scruffy black man McDowell whose talented shoes she was not fit to shine was overlooked.

While I generally agree with that sentiment (that's why Elvis, and not Little Richard, is the "King" of rock and roll), I think it's unfair to categorize Bonnie that way. She is a true blueswoman, regardless of some of the commercial crap she's done. Traditional blues has not had a bigger champion in the last thirty years, artistically or monetarily.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:11 AM on September 23, 2008


I happen to enjoy both McDowell and some of Bonnie's stuff (although more things like 'Love Has No Pride' and 'Under The Falling Sky' than her blues covers), as I imagine many people do. Let's not turn a rememberance of a great musician into a pointless argument.
posted by jonmc at 7:16 AM on September 23, 2008


Side benefit of this thread: following the Related Videos trail off into R. L. Burnside land is really making my morning.
posted by COBRA! at 7:18 AM on September 23, 2008


Don't forget 'itch'.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:20 AM on September 23, 2008


Sympathy for the Evil, I can't stand that one.
posted by Mister_A at 7:23 AM on September 23, 2008


I always liked their album Oats Head Soup.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:56 AM on September 23, 2008


Is it just me that wants to kick the shit out of whoever wrote that review of Sticky Fingers?

Yeah, Jon Landau always sucked.

"I have seen the future of Rock and Roll and I'm getting 15% of everything!"
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:01 AM on September 23, 2008


McDowell's inimitable 'Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor' is an essential wooing mixtape entry.

Make it baby, close behind your door.
Make it baby, close behind the door.
Make me a pallet, close behind the door.
Make it where your good man will never go.

posted by Haruspex at 8:16 AM on September 23, 2008


Yeah, Jon Landau always sucked.

Mediocre critic, but a good producer (Born To Run) and a nice guy (I met him a few times).
posted by jonmc at 8:22 AM on September 23, 2008


Reading Landau's review -- wow, the Stones had 15 albums in the bag by 1971?!

great post flapjax.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2008


She is a true blueswoman, regardless of some of the commercial crap she's done.

They call me Mississippi Fred McDowell, but my home is in Rossville Tennesseee. . . and I do not play no rock'n'roll, y'all, I just play the straight natural blues. . . only way you can rock Fred you have to put him in rockin' chair, understand, that's my kinda rockin'.

One is not like the other.
posted by three blind mice at 8:37 AM on September 23, 2008


This Rolling Tones post was meaningless until the next FPP happened...then it all made sense...
posted by HuronBob at 8:56 AM on September 23, 2008


Heavily influenced by R.L. Burnside, Mcdowell and other blues greats, the North Mississippi Allstars have blown up the rock n' roll blues scene. Stealing their music or paying homage - call it what you will. Made up of Chris Chew (bass), Cody (drums) and Luther Dickinson (guitar), the latter being sons of Jim Dickinson, a session player and producer. Jim was played keys for such legends as Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Bob Dylan, the Replacements, G. Love & Special Sauce, Flat Duo Jets, and Mudhoney.

R.L.'s son, Dwayne will sit in with them on occasion playing guitar.

NMAS playing "Po' Black Maddie" and "Shake em on Down" (R.L. Burnside tunes - poor video, decent sound, deal with it)


We seem to like our old, black Delta blues best when it's played by young, white people.


I hear this, but some of the young, white people make it more digestible for the masses.
posted by premortem at 10:09 AM on September 23, 2008


Damn the masses then. They get what they deserve. I won't lament the fact that this is the SOP, because this is not new. But I'll go on listening to McDowell, & to Booker White, Sonny & Terry and so on. And I'm by no means a purist. I tried the North Mississippi All Stars because of their relationship to R.L. Burnside. I thought it was OK. But that's it, just OK.

Ticky Ingers stands the test of time, and may NMAS find the same. I never think there is too much music in the world (until I saw that Josh Groban Emmy performance linked on the MSN/Google/Yahoo rap battle thread), so I am perfectly willing to not make this a zero sum situation. The masses can have NMAS and they can have Robert Cray fwiw, too.

I'll just sit here in my rocking chair with Mississippi Fred.

Great post flapjax.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:42 AM on September 23, 2008


...why Elvis, and not Little Richard, is the "King" of rock and roll

But Little Richard will always be the Queen of Rock and Roll...

posted by shockingbluamp at 12:31 PM on September 23, 2008


I'm ore of an eatles an.
posted by Aquaman at 1:18 PM on September 23, 2008


The good looking, white woman Raitt was "discovered," and the scruffy black man McDowell whose talented shoes she was not fit to shine was overlooked.

McDowell is not a household name because he played a genre of music that is, by and large, ignored by most of the pop listening public (even now). Raitt got famous because she made radio friendly pop songs, that were not at all in the vein of McDowells. Relative talent bashing aside, she made it to a place he had never tried to get to. So making this an argument about race seems rather far fetched. Robert Cray hit it big at about the same time and B. B. King's comeback also happened at about that time.

Say what you want about rock groups of the 60's and 70's ripping off blues greats and I'll generally agree. The did rip them off, but they also repackaged the music in a palatable form for the greater (white, middle class) listening audience that wasn't interested in or listening to blues. In the early 70's for most teenagers, blues was akin to country and bluegrass, it was music for old people. It wasn't till somewhere in the 80s where you started seeing Robert Johnson box sets show up in record stores.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:45 PM on September 23, 2008


...repackaged the music in a palatable form for the greater (white, middle class) listening audience that wasn't interested in or listening to blues. In the early 70's for most teenagers, blues was akin to country and bluegrass, it was music for old people. It wasn't till somewhere in the 80s where you started seeing Robert Johnson box sets show up in record stores.

I agree with the first part of this, differ on the rest. I think it depended on where you grew up. By all accounts, if you grew up in Great Britain, you would not have had the "Music for old people" prejudice.

I grew up in Chicago, and yes, by and large, it was British artists reimporting music from my hometown that made me aware that this was right under my nose. I knew who the Yardbirds were & Fleetwood Mac, so Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dicxon may have remained unknown to me but for their homages to Chicago blues. Probably I think that many teenagers in the early 70s didn't think that the blues was old people's music, but rather "Dangerous Other" music.

I was fortunate in that my parents didn't teach me that fear and so I went to clubs on the west side and the south side and got to see Otis Spann, Junior Wells, Hound Dog Taylor. Son Seals came on the scene in Chicago in 1971. In Chicago at least, there were a lot of us that didn't think of blues as "old people's' music, but vibrant, witty, visceral music.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:27 PM on September 23, 2008


A fitting post for the blue. Greatly appreciated.
posted by ersatz at 5:01 PM on September 23, 2008


Another great post flapjax, McDowell is one of my favorites. Really enjoyed all the background you dug up on him.
posted by nola at 5:10 PM on September 23, 2008


Beelzabubba, I did say most, not all. I grew up in the suburbs in California. Chicago has a defined relationship to the blues and an active blues scene, so you got to see it first hand. Most kids didn't have that in most of the country. And, to be clear, I don't consider it old people music now, that's just the way it looked to me in my late teens.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:06 PM on September 23, 2008


I do agree with your premise overall, Dr. Neg. And yeah, I know that most of the country didn't have an active live blues scene. I guess what I was saying is that the teens were receptive to the blues, just weren't aware of it at all until the outsiders who did value it (e.g. the brit rockers) and then the teens grabbed onto it once they really heard it.

I also forgot to mention that back in the 70s when I worked for a major record label distribution division, we had box sets of many of the old blues guys, but as you might guess, not many, b/c outside of classical and Sinatra, no one had box sets of lps yet. First non-major I can think of with a box was the ECM solo Jarrett from Bremen/Lausanne. (But I'm not looking it up, just remembering with a faulty memory.)

I didn't at all get the impression that you thought it was old ppls music now. But I'll also stick with many youth (not saying you) thought of black blues musicians as scary rather than old. Just gauging by the reaction of my fellow teens that I tried to get to go with me to the clubs. They'd go see Siegall-Schwall Band or Harvey Mandel, but Buddy Guy? Junior Wells? No way.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:38 AM on September 25, 2008


...but Buddy Guy? Junior Wells? No way.

Lord, I'd have loved to have seen those two together, around the time of Hoodoo Man Blues, one of my fave, fave Chicago blues discs.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 AM on September 25, 2008


How did I almost completely miss this?? Sigh...one of my favorites. Thanks for the post.
posted by Roman Graves at 1:43 AM on September 26, 2008


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