Walter E. Lewis was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, but his family moved to Memphis when he was aged seven. Lewis acquired the nickname « Furry » from childhood playmates. But by the time he was re-discovered in the 1950s not even Furry himself could remember why.
By 1908, he was playing solo for parties, in taverns, and on the street. He also was invited to play several dates with W. C. Handy’s Orchestra.
The loss of a leg in a railroad accident in 1917 does not seem to have slowed his life or career down — in fact, it hastened his entry into professional music, because he assumed that there was no gainful employment open to crippled, uneducated blacks in Memphis.
His travels exposed him to a wide variety of performers including Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Slow Blind Driveway, and Texas Alexander. Like his contemporary Frank Stokes, he tired of the road and took a permanent job in 1922. His position as a street sweeper for the City of Memphis, a job he would hold until his retirement in 1966, allowed him to remain active in the Memphis music scene.
In 1927, Lewis cut his first records in Chicago for the Vocalion label. A year later he recorded for the Victor label at the Memphis Auditorium in a session that saw sides waxed by the Memphis Jug Band, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, and others. He again recorded for Vocalion in Memphis in 1929. The tracks were mostly blues but included two-part versions of « Casey Jones » and « John Henry ». He sometimes fingerpicked, sometimes played with a slide.
Lewis’ style of Memphis blues was in many ways typical of the songsters who operated in and around Memphis in the 1920s, for whom the value of a song was the story it told, and who tended to back their words with hypnotic repetitive riffs and subtle slide guitars. Lewis’s soft voice and quick slide work were particularly effective in this style. He recorded many successful records in the late 1920s including « Kassie Jones », « Billy Lyons & Stack-O-Lee » and « Judge Harsh Blues » 
(later called « Good Morning Judge »).
This success was limited to the race records of the time, cheap sides by black musicians for black customers. Lewis received neither fame nor fortune for his efforts. In 1962, however, he was recorded by the folklorist George Mitchell and his stock began to pick up. In 1969, Lewis was recorded by the record producer, Terry Manning, at home in Lewis’ Beale Street apartment, singing and playing as he sat up in his bed. These recordings were released in Europe at the time by Barclay Records, and then again in the early 1990s by Lucky Seven Records in the United States, and again in 2006 by Universal. Joni Mitchell’s song, « Furry Sings the Blues », (on her Hejira album) is about Lewis and the Memphis music she experienced in the early 1970s. (Lewis despised the Mitchell song and demanded she pay him royalties).
In 1972 he was the featured performer in the Memphis Blues Caravan, which included the likes of Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes and Hammy Nixon, Memphis Piano Red, Sam Chatmon, and Mose Vinson.
Before he died, Lewis opened twice for The Rolling Stones, played on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, and had a part in a Burt Reynolds movie, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), and even a profile in Playboy magazine.
Lewis began to lose his eyesight due to cataracts in his final years. He contracted pneumonia in 1981, which led to his death on 14 September of that year, at the age of 88. He is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in South Memphis, where his grave bears two headstones, the second purchased by fans.
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