Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 4, page 1 of 10)

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Chapter 4

During the time period immediately following the Reconstruction Era, a group of black American songsters were entertaining the public with their rendition or the ballads, minstrel songs, coon songs, ragtime pieces, dance tunes and reels. Those who played an instrument would accompany themselves. The non-musician would employ someone to accompany them usually with a guitar, fiddle or banjo.

When the second generation or songsters became of age, they combined the older selection of songs with the newly-added blues. Many of them were called upon to make recordings. Among the first to do so wan Texan Henry Thomas with his early black ballad, "John Henry" on Vocalion Records in 1927 who provided his own accompaniment on guitar. Following close behind Henry Thomas was Frank Stokes from Memphis, a professional blacksmith by trade and an excellent guitarist. He along with Dan Sane another guitarist formed the Memphis duo and was known as the Beale Street Sheiks.

The recorded several sessions for Paramount Records from 1927 to 1929. Among their hit songs were, "You Shall," "Clicken, You Can't Roost behind the Moon," and "Mr. Crump Don't Like It," a song about Memphis Mayor E. H. Crump, composed by W. C. Handy who later changed the name to "Memphis Blues."

Walter 'Furry' Lewis of Greenwood, Mississippi settled down in Memphis in the early 1920s and was the musical blues life blood of Beale Street. He played with the touring W. C. Handy's band and whenever the tent shows would come into town. Among the black songsters who recorded in the late 1920s, 'Furry' Lewis was the most tireless performer associated Memphis, Mississippi and active in bringing back the black music to Beale Street.

During the blues lean years of the 1940s, 'Furry' went to work for the Memphis Sanitation department as a street cleaner earning fifteen cents an hour pushing a broom in the gutters in the same street his music was once performed. In 1916 when Lewis was only 23 years old he was living the life as a hobo hopping freight trains to go in any direction the train was traveling. However, on one uneventful day while attempting to hop on a freight car his foot got caught in the railroad coupling and he lost his leg under the wheels of the freight train.

Being a womanizer, 'Furry' was asked by a long time friend why he didn't get married and settle down. "Why?" he responded, "should I bother getting a wife when the man next door got one just as good." During the 1920s, Lewis wrote many songs and was often seen and heard playing guitar on the Memphis street corners for tips. At best, he was a master songwriter and took great pain in composing lyrics for his music. From his "Mistreatin' Mamma," came the lyrical line, "I got nineteen women; all I want's one more/Just one more sweet mamma, and I'll let the nineteen go." Yazoo Label, "In His Prime" 1927-28.

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