Mississippi Fred McDowell

Fred is the man. Mississippi Fred McDowell was born January 12, 1904 in Rossville, Tennessee. He died on July 3, 1972 in Memphis, Tennessee. He began playing in late the 1920's. Fred moved to Mississippi in 1940 and worked there as a farmer until his death in 1972. First recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax. Became popular after being recorded in 1964 for Arhoolie by Chris Strachwitz. Played in 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Many records were made in the sixties. More attention came from electric record on Capital, I Do Not Play No Rock And Roll, issued in 1969. Earlier records are solo acoustic with a lot of slide. Although recorded within a few years of each other and with lots of duplicated songs, his records all sound a little different from each other. Later records are on electric guitar, usually solo, sometimes accompanied by a small band. He wears a small homemade bottleneck slide on the end of his 3rd finger, supposedly preferring Gordon gin bottles. His style is very rhythmic and the smaller slide lets him play rhythm on the lower strings while using the slide on the upper strings. Most of the surviving Delta blues guitarists credit him as an influence. The first record listed below would be my top recommendation.


A Biography - Jeff Yelton

Blue Flame Cafe

CD Discography:

Mississippi Fred McDowell - Rounder CD 2138 - 1995.
Recorded in Como, Mississippi around Easter in 1962 by Dick Spotswood. Issued on LP in the 80's on the British label Heritage. Also, since issued on CD in 1989 on Flyright as FLY CD 14. Good sound, an excellent performance recorded in McDowell's living room. Acoustic guitar with razor sharp slide. Interesting and lengthy notes by Tom Pomposello. A particularly good record, highly recommended. Songs: Done Left Here, All the Way From East St. Louis, Shake 'Em On Down, The Girl That I'm Lovin', Good Morninig Little Schoolgirl, Left My Baby Standing, On the Frisco Line, Write Me a Few Lines, Goin' Down To The River, I Rolled And I Tumbled, Trouble Everywhere I Go, Red Cross Store Blues, John Henry, Kokomo Blues, Milk Cow Blues, Trouble Everywhere I Go (alternalte version), I've Been Drinking Water Out Of A Hollow Log, Highway 61, Someday Baby, Como.
Details from Rounder website
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My Home Is In The Delta - Blues and Spirituals by Fred and Annie Mae McDowell - Testament TCD 5019 - 1995.
Recorded November 24, 1963 and February 24, 1964. 17 songs including 4 previously unreleased. The rest were previously available as Testament LP 2208. Read about it or order it from Amazon

You Gotta Move - Arhoolie CD 304 - 1989
Recorded in Como, Mississippi by Chris Strachwitz, 2/13/64. 19 songs. Solo acoustic guitar. Awesome record. This CD is the contents of his first Arhoolie LP, the classic "Mississippi Delta Blues", released in 1964, plus 6 additional songs. Essential.
Details from Arhoolie website
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Good Morning Little Schoolgirl - Arhoolie CD 424 - 1994
Recorded mainly in Mississippi in 1964 by Chris Strachwitz. 22 songs, 13 previously unreleased, the others from several Arhoolie LPs.
Details from Arhoolie website
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Amazing Grace - Testament TCD 5004 - 1994
Recorded February 6, 1966 in Chicago. Fred plays with 4 singers, including his wife, from his church, Hunter's Chapel of Como, Mississippi. Includes 3 previously unissued tracks, the remainder previously available as testament LP 2219. Brief notes by Pete Welding. Read about it or order it from Amazon

Long Way From Home - Milestone - 1990
Nine songs recorded November 12, 1966 at University of California by Pete Welding. Includes original LP liner notes by Pete Welding.
Details from Fantasy website
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Steakbone Slide Guitar - Rykodisc/Tradition TCD 1012
Recorded in London in 1969. Originally issued on LP as "In London Volume 2" by Transatlantic. This is Fred's first record after switching to electric guitar and consists entirely of solo performances on electric guitar.
Details from Tradition Records website.

Live at the Mayfair Hotel - Infinite Zero - 1995
CD reissue of 1969 Red Lightnin' Records double LP. Recorded in London in 1969. Solo electric guitar. Infinite Zero is Henry Rollins' label.

I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll - Capitol - 1995
Recorded in 1969. This may be Fred's biggest record, made shortly after switching to electric guitar. This CD reissue is a 2-CD set which includes the 9 songs from the original Capitol LP of the same name and also includes the contents of an LP issued by Just Sunshine which consisted of 9 additional songs recorded at the same session, plus 3 previously unreleased tracks. Fred is accompanied by bass and drums. Includes a 30-page booklet with excellent notes by Pete Welding.

This reissue was out of print for awhile, and recently (2001) Capitol reissued it again, this time as a single disc.

This Ain't No Rock and Roll - Arhoolie 441 - 1995
Songs 1-8 previously available as Arholie LP 1046, recorded August 19-21, 1969. Songs 9-18 previously unissued, recorded March 1968.
Details from Arhoolie website
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Levee Camp Blues - Testament TCD 6007 - 1998
Recorded in 1968 with a couple of songs from 1966.
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Fred McDowell - The First Recordings - Rounder CD 1718 - 1997
From the Alan Lomax Collectin Portrait Series. These are the first recordings of McDowell, recorded in Como, Mississippi in September of 1959 by Alan Lomax.
Details from Rounder website
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Mississippi Blues - Black Lion BLCD760179 - 1992
7 songs recorded by Alan Bates in Como Mississippi on December 1, 1965. Songs: Some Day Baby, Milk Cow Blues, Train I Ride, Over the Hill, Goin' Down to the River, I Wished I Were In Heaven Sitting Down, Louise.
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Ain't Gona Worry My Life - Drive Archive - 1994
I have not yet seen this record. Amazon


Masters of the Country Blues - Fred McDowell & Big Joe Williams - Yazoo 504
Have not yet seen. I would guess this is a 60-minute tape and Fred probably gets half of that time.
Details from Yazoo. Read about it or order it from Amazon

Legends of Bottleneck Blues Guitar - Vestopol 13002
Fred gets about 3 songs on this. Excellent footage.
Details from Rounder website Read about it or order it from Amazon

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Revised 01/24/02.      Links checked 12/14/99