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Fred McDowell

Mississippi Fred McDowell

Delta blues man Fred McDowell is featured in this scene from the 1969 documentary “Blues Maker.”

Fred McDowell was born in Rossville, Tennessee. His parents, who were farmers, died when he was young. He started playing guitar at the age of 14, performing at dances. Wanting a change from plowing fields, he moved to Memphis in 1926 where he started to work in the Buck-Eye feed mill where they processed cotton into oil and other products. He also had a number of other jobs and played music for tips. Later in 1928 he moved south into Mississippi to pick cotton. He settled in Como, Mississippi, about 40 miles south of Memphis, in 1940 or 1941, and worked steadily as a farmer, continuing to perform music at dances and picnics. Initially he played slide guitar using a pocket knife and then a slide made from a beef rib bone, later switching to a glass slide on his ring finger for its clearer sound.

While he is often categorized as a Delta Blues singer, McDowell is actually considered the first of the bluesmen from the Northern Mississippi to achieve widespread fame.

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