Furry Lewis; vocal, guitar, bottleneck-slide guitar.
Genres: Memphis blues, Country blues.
Informative booklet notes by Chris Smith.
Walter "Furry" Lewis was born in 1893 in Greenwood, Mississippi, and moved to Memphis around 1900. Taking up music at an early age, he played in the streets and bars, and at social functions. In April, 1927 he got his first opportunity to record. On the first three titles, the simple rhythm guitar is played by Landers Waller, with Charles Johnson supplying the pleasant, old-fashioned mandolin. It sounds as though Lewis accompanies himself on Rock Island Blues and Jelly Roll where the playing is more complex, and more integrated with the vocals. Whoever the instrumentalists were, Furry's high voice, with its strong vibrato, was unmistakable from the first.
At his debut session, Lewis sang only blues, probably in line with fashion and record company demand, but as well as singing blues, he preserved the songster's repertoire of ballads, and at each of the three sessions he recorded in the 1920s, one each year from 1927 to 1929, he made valuable versions of well known ballads. As a blues singer, he brought to the form a talent for grotesque imagery. But one always feels that he is laughing at some of these images. He never lets his tough guy fantasy obscure the real world of poverty, and of women who are not the compliant beings of his dreams; the homicidal bedbugs of Creeper's Blues are an elaboration of the daily reality of pests, and the same could be said of the fictional Judge Harsh and the real Southern system.
Lewis was a fast and fluent guitar player; occasionally, his ideas were faster than his fingers could execute, but he was adept at recovering from such brief stumbles. His playing was forceful, combining Mississippi Delta percussiveness with intricate, ragtimey patterns, sometimes using a drone, bass that functions as much rhythmically as harmonically; compare Kassie Jones (as it was spelled on the record label) or I Will Turn Your Money Green. Sometimes, his accompaniments featured mellifluous slide playing; Why Don't You Come Home and Cannon Ball Blues are fine examples. Furry Lewis was one of the first blues singers to be relocated by researchers and from 1959 onwards he made many recordings. His first and finest recordings, though, are those on this CD, made when he was a young man and full of clever verbal and musical notions.