Furry Lewis Biography

Walter Lewis, 6 March 1893, Greenwood, Mississippi, USA, d. 14 September 1981, Memphis, Tennessee, USA. Furry Lewis was a songster, a blues musician, a humorist and an all-round entertainer. Raised in the country, he picked up the guitar at an early age and moved into Memphis around 1900 where he busked on the streets. After he ran away from home, he had experience working on travelling medicine shows under the influence of Jim Jackson. He worked with W.C. Handy and claimed that Handy presented him with his first good guitar. Hoboing across country in 1916, he had an accident while hopping a train and consequently lost a leg. After this he moved to Memphis and, while performing and recording, he supplemented his income by sweeping the streets. Apart from periods working on riverboats and with medicine shows in the 20s, this remained the style of his life for approximately the next 40 or more years.

Lewis recorded 11 titles for Vocalion Records in 1927, eight for Victor Records in 1928 and four more for Vocalion in 1929. He had a guitar style that incorporated aspects of both the Mississippi county style and the lighter, more ragged Memphis sound, supplemented by some impressive slide work. His voice was clear and his approach to lyrics often self-mockingly humorous. Several of his recordings were ballads and his treatment of these was equally original. Well known around the city, he sometimes appeared as part of the Memphis Jug Band. He was one of the first pre-war blues artists to be ‘rediscovered’, and from 1959 he pursued a second successful career on the college circuit and played in several movies, including an unlikely appearance with Burt Reynolds in W.W. And The Dixie Dance Kings. Still an able performer he made many recordings during this period and was confirmed an Honorary Colonel of the State of Tennessee in 1973. Highly regarded by many performers, he received a touching tribute from Joni Mitchell on ‘Furry Sings The Blues’, which was featured on her 1976 album Heijera.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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