Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 4, page 2 of 17)


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Chapter 4

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.

In addition to his blues, Lewis enjoyed playing folk ballads. Three of his favorites were, "John Henry," "Kassie Jones" and "Stack O' Lee." His recording career lasted only three years from 1927-29 and turned out hits that included "I Will Turn Your Money Green" and "Pearless." However, in 1959 he was rediscovered by Sam Charters and began a new recording career until his demise in 1980 at the age of 88. During his lifetime he performed as a medicine-show songster traveling with the medicine show.

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