Shake ‘Em On Down

Mississippi Fred McDowell

Blues from the Mississippi Hills

Fred McDowell performs the classic North Mississippi hill country song “Shake ‘Em On Down.”

While commonly lumped together with Delta Blues singers, McDowell actually may be considered the first of the bluesmen from the ‘North Mississippi’ region, parallel to but somewhat east of the Delta region, to achieve widespread recognition for his work. A version of the state’s signature musical form somewhat closer in structure to its African roots, often avoiding the chord change for the hypnotic effect of a droning, single chord vamp. The North hill country blues style may be heard carried on in the music of such figures as Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside.

The 1950s brought a rising interest in blues music and folk music in the United States and McDowell was brought to wider public attention, beginning when he was discovered and recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. McDowell’s records were popular, and he performed often at festivals and clubs. He continued to perform blues in the North Mississippi blues style much as he had for decades, but he sometimes performed on electric guitar rather than acoustic guitar. While he famously declared “I do not play no rock and roll,” McDowell was not averse to associating with many younger rock musicians: He coached Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar technique. In 1965 he toured Europe with The American Folk Blues Festival, together with Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Roosevelt Sykes and others.

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